Pompeo confirmation winnowing down to a handful of undecided Democrats

No Democrats have said yet they'll support Mike Pompeo, keeping the CIA director's fate unclear as the Senate prepare...

Posted: Apr 19, 2018 9:18 AM
Updated: Apr 19, 2018 9:18 AM

No Democrats have said yet they'll support Mike Pompeo, keeping the CIA director's fate unclear as the Senate prepares to vote on his nomination to be secretary of state.

With Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky already opposed and Sen. John McCain back in Arizona battling cancer, Republicans would need a single Democrat to vote in favor of Pompeo should each of the 49 remaining GOP members vote for the nomination. Should they lose more Republicans, more Democrats would be needed to get the nomination across the finish line.

A plot twist came Wednesday, however, when Paul said President Donald Trump had called and asked him to meet with Pompeo. "I'm open to meeting right now and we'll see what happens in the meeting," he said, adding that no date has been set.

"I will say this about Rand Paul: He's never let me down," Trump told reporters from his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida.

If Paul remains in the "no" column, Pompeo would still need to pick up at least one Democrat.

Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona could also be a wild card. He told CNN he had submitted questions to Pompeo after his confirmation hearing and "I'm still waiting for satisfactory answers." Flake, whose vote is doubly significant as he is a member of Foreign Relations Committee, said he is still undecided on how he will vote on Pompeo, indicating he "still has some issues."

Meanwhile, half of the Senate's 49 Democrats and independents have announced they plan to oppose the nomination, while the other half haven't said how they plan to vote.

Of the unknowns, all eyes are on a handful of moderate Democrats who Republicans are trying to win over, like Sens. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Claire McCaskill of Missouri -- all of whom are up for re-election this year in states that Trump won by big margins in 2016.

"We're still talking," said Manchin, who met Tuesday with Pompeo. "We've had good conversations and are going to have some more."

Another undecided, Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, said he is "leaning against" Pompeo's nomination, adding that his office is getting calls from constituents who are against Pompeo by a 50-to-1 margin.

"I am leaning against, but I will tell you I'm really trying to think this through and make a thoughtful judgment," Coons said in an interview with CNN.

Sen. Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, voted for Pompeo last year for CIA director and met with him Wednesday afternoon. He said "it was a good meeting" but would not engage on whether Pompeo will get his vote again.

Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, voted against Pompeo last year and cited his recent secret North Korea trip as one reason he was opposing him this time around, saying Pompeo had been "less than forthcoming" with the committee during his hearing last week.

Some moderate Democrats, as well as independent Sen. Angus King of Maine, declined to weigh in, saying they want to discuss it with the nominee first. "I'm going to reserve my comments, and let me talk to Director Pompeo about all that," said Sen. Doug Jones, a Democrat from Alabama.

Other moderate Democrats who are undecided on Pompeo's nomination say his North Korea trip is not a major concern. "It might be a positive thing, actually," said Sen. Jon Tester of Montana. "I look at it as a potential positive."

Heitkamp said she also didn't have concerns about Pompeo's meeting with Kim Jong Un as she decides whether to back him.

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