CIA Director Mike Pompeo just received a confidence vote from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to become the next US secretary of state — when just minutes before it looked like he would receive a historic rebuke.
On Monday evening, the committee — which is narrowly split with 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats — voted along party lines to endorse Pompeo’s nomination to the entire Senate. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) originally vowed not to vote for Pompeo. But, in an unexpected twist, the senator tweeted minutes before the vote that he changed his mind after speaking with President Donald Trump and Pompeo himself.
“After calling continuously for weeks for Director Pompeo to support President Trump’s belief that the Iraq war was a mistake, and that it is time to leave Afghanistan, today I received confirmation the Director Pompeo agrees with @realDonaldTrump,” Paul tweeted. “I have decided to support his nomination to be our next Secretary of State.”
Asked about the Pompeo vote and Paul while alongside French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday evening, President Trump said Paul “never let us down” and that “he’s a good man.”
But the unexpected drama doesn’t end there. All Republicans originally voted in favor of Pompeo, while all Democrats voted against him — but Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) was not present at the committee because he was giving a eulogy for a friend. He voted for Pompeo by proxy, but according to Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), the committee’s chairman, the committee could not send Pompeo’s nomination to the floor with an endorsement unless all the present “yes” votes outnumbered the present “no” votes.
Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), who originally voted “no,” then said he would vote “present” so the committee didn’t have to wait until around 11 pm to vote in person. Coons also has a close relationship with Isakson and may have wanted to spare him having to formally vote late at night. The final tally ended 11 votes in favor of Pompeo, nine votes against, and one present (Coons). Because there were more present “yes” votes than present “no” votes, Pompeo’s nomination will now be sent to the Senate floor for a final confirmation vote.
Had the committee not endorsed Pompeo, he would likely have become the first Cabinet secretary of any kind to win their job without a committee endorsement since 1945, the Senate Historical Office told me. That dubious distinction is currently held by Henry Wallace, who served as commerce secretary from 1945 to 1946.
Most observers expect the Senate, where Republicans hold a 51-49 advantage, to officially confirm Pompeo because three Democrats have already said they’ll vote for Trump’s pick. The endorsements by Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (ND), Sen. Joe Manchin (WV), and Sen. Joe Donnelly (IN) — who are all up for reelection in states Trump won — will pave the way for Pompeo to become the nation’s chief diplomat.
So Pompeo avoided a massive embarrassment on Monday and will likely soon take over the State Department. But he surely would’ve wanted the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to endorse him in a more straightforward way than it just did.