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Tim Kaine says he won’t back Mike Pompeo as secretary of state

Kaine voted for Pompeo as director of the CIA. He says he’ll oppose him at State.

Senator Rand Paul has also said he’s a no on Pompeo as Secretary of State.
Sen. Rand Paul has also said he’s a no on Pompeo as secretary of state.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Emily Stewart covered business and economics for Vox and wrote the newsletter The Big Squeeze, examining the ways ordinary people are being squeezed under capitalism. Before joining Vox, she worked for TheStreet.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) voted to confirm Mike Pompeo as CIA director, but he will oppose him as secretary of state, citing the director’s “anti-diplomacy disposition.” Kaine sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which held a confirmation hearing for Pompeo this week. “I have decided to oppose the nomination of Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State,” he said in a statement. “I honor his public service and voted for him to be CIA Director. But in scrutinizing his nomination to be America’s principal diplomat, I cannot overlook grave doubts about his anti-diplomacy disposition.”

Pompeo’s hawkishness on Iran and North Korea and his support of President Donald Trump’s decision to bomb Syria while insisting former US President Barack Obama not take military action there appeared to seal the deal for Kaine, who painted the director as a political figure beholden to an overly aggressive Trump. “Now more than ever, we need a Secretary of State who will stand strong for vigorous U.S. diplomacy,” his statement read. “I believe that Mike Pompeo would exacerbate President Trump’s weaknesses rather than uphold our diplomatic legacy. For this reason, I will vote against his nomination.”

Kaine had previously telegraphed his doubts about voting for Pompeo for secretary of state. “I’m still weighing it, but I’ll tell you, I walked in with serious questions and they weren’t really laid to rest yesterday by his testimony,” Kaine said on CNN on Friday. Kaine was one of two Foreign Relations Committee Democrats to vote in favor of Pompeo at the CIA.

Pompeo’s confirmation isn’t a sure thing

Pompeo needs the support of committee Democrats if he hopes to win confirmation as America’s top diplomat. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has said he won’t vote for Pompeo, and Sen.John McCain (R-AZ) is at home receiving treatment for cancer. Sen.Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), the other committee Democrat who voted in favor of Pompeo at the CIA, has expressed doubts about him as secretary of state as well. And Republicans have only a slim 51-49 majority in the Senate right now. John Sullivan, former deputy secretary of state, is currently acting secretary of state.

Not having someone permanently in charge of the State Department, especially given tenuous situations in Iran, North Korea, and Syria, is obviously problematic. The department was eroded under Rex Tillerson, who left the office without any major accomplishments —he also pushed to slash “inefficiencies” at the department, resulting in the resignation of 60 percent of its top-ranking career diplomats.

Trump has numerous other appointed positions throughout the government that he has not yet filled. He often blames that on Democrats, but in many cases, it’s the president who hasn’t nominated anyone.

Mike Pompeo is pretty intense

Pompeo is a former three-term Republican Congress member. He’s known for his hawkish stance on Iran and his grilling of Hillary Clinton over Benghazi. Trump has grown to like him as director of the CIA, and they’ve developed a close relationship over Pompeo’s daily intelligence briefings.

Vox’s Alex Ward, who has a complete explainer on Pompeo and his background, laid out some of the controversy surrounding him and what his appointment might mean:

There’s reason to worry about Pompeo’s credibility and honesty. He repeatedly misrepresented the Russia assessment, stating that the intelligence community concluded Moscow had no effect on the vote’s final result when in reality it made no judgments on that.

If confirmed, Pompeo will bring his more hawkish worldview to the State Department. He’s supported keeping the US prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, open, defended the CIA’s use of torture in the past, and sees Iran and “radical Islamic terrorism” as top national security threats — all positions closely aligned with those of Trump.

That suggests Pompeo will hew closer to Trump’s worldview than Tillerson has, which has far-reaching implications for US foreign policy.

During Thursday’s Senate hearing, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) grilled Pompeo about his past associations with prominent anti-Muslim ideologues. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) pointed out Pompeo’s multiple conflicting statements, noting that much of what he said at the hearing does not line up with positions he’s taken in the past on issues such as the use of military force, Islam, and LGBTQ rights. “As we close here, I am trying to think about which Mike Pompeo I will be asked to vote on,” he said. It looks like the path ahead for Pompeo’s confirmation is anything but clear.

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