Dems walk tightrope on Pompeo nomination

Democrats are navigating a political minefield as they weigh their support for Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoTwo men arrested for allegedly spying for Iran in US China moves to keep buying Iranian oil despite US sanctions: report US-Russia cooperation could ensure safer repatriation of Syrian refugees MORE’s nomination as secretary of State.

With Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulPaul seeks to cut off Planned Parenthood funds via massive spending bill Arizona GOP Senate candidate defends bus tour with far-right activist Trump plays 'quick round of golf' with Rand Paul in New Jersey MORE (R-Ky.) opposed and Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCain15 senators miss votes despite McConnell's criticism of absentees What crime did Manafort allegedly commit? Primary challenge to Trump? It could help him in 2020 MORE (R-Ariz.) absent, Democrats have the power to block the Cabinet nominee on the Senate floor — something they haven't been able to do since President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump threatens ex-intel official's clearance, citing comments on CNN Protesters topple Confederate monument on UNC campus Man wanted for threatening to shoot Trump spotted in Maryland MORE took office.

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Fifteen members of the Democratic conference, including Sen. Angus KingAngus Stanley KingOvernight Energy: Judge revives clean water rule | Keystone XL pipeline to get new environmental review | Nominee won't say if he backs funding agency Trump nominee won't say if he supports funding agency he was selected to run Trump draws bipartisan fire over Brennan MORE (I-Maine), supported Pompeo to be CIA director last year. But a growing number of Democrats are coming out against his nomination this time, underscoring the pressure they are under from the liberal base to take a hard line against Trump’s picks.

Of the 15 minority members who backed Pompeo for CIA director, roughly half have now said they will oppose him for the State Department. Being the country’s top diplomat, they say, is vastly different from running a spy agency.

“America needs an experienced diplomat with a strong voice who will serve as a check on an impulsive, inexperienced president and undertake a sustained effort to rebuild the State Department and restore the morale of its dedicated public servants,” Sen. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedPentagon, GOP breathe sign of relief after Trump cancels parade Top Senate Democrat: Space Force is 'not the way to go' Sunday shows preview: Virginia lawmakers talk Charlottesville, anniversary protests MORE (D-R.I.) said on Wednesday, becoming one of the latest to oppose Pompeo.

Republicans hold 51 seats in the Senate. With Republican support for Pompeo capped at 49 votes, they’ll need at least one Democrat to cross over before he can be confirmed.

No Democrat has stepped forward to back him, though Pompeo has been courting their support assiduously.

It is unusual for a secretary of State nominee to face such a high level of opposition.

Pompeo, if he is ultimately confirmed, will likely set a record for the most votes ever cast against a secretary of State. That record is now held by Trump’s first secretary, Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonTo solve the southern border crisis, look past the border Dems want GOP chairman to subpoena State Department over cyber docs Overnight Energy: Trump elephant trophy tweets blindsided staff | Execs of chemical plant that exploded during hurricane indicted | Interior to reverse pesticide ban at wildlife refuges MORE, who was confirmed 56-43 last year. 

“I think that at the beginning of Trump’s time in office, many Democrats were prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt when it came to his nominees for Cabinet positions. However, given the trail of incompetence … we’ve seen out of these nominees since then, I don’t think that’s any longer the case,” said Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist who worked for former Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidWith lives at stake, Congress must start acting on health care GOP’s midterm strategy takes shape Battle of the billionaires drives Nevada contest MORE (D-Nev.).

“Sure, some of these Democrats are voting against nominees partly for political reasons, but I think a whole bunch of them are sick of it,” he added. “The idea of [national security adviser John] Bolton and Pompeo together should scare any honest, God-fearing American.”

Of the Senate Democrats who supported Pompeo’s CIA nomination, seven have yet to say how they’ll vote now: Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyDems to challenge Kavanaugh for White House records The Hill's Morning Report: Dems have a majority in the Senate (this week) Schumer to meet with Kavanaugh on Tuesday MORE (Ind.), Maggie HassanMargaret (Maggie) HassanSenate panel spars with Trump administration over treatment of unaccompanied immigrant children Dem senators introduce resolution calling on Trump to stop attacking the press Senators blast Michigan State president's handling of sex abuse scandal MORE (N.H.), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampDems to challenge Kavanaugh for White House records To solve the southern border crisis, look past the border The Hill's Morning Report: Dems have a majority in the Senate (this week) MORE (N.D.), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinDems to challenge Kavanaugh for White House records Overnight Health Care: Senate takes up massive HHS spending bill next week | Companies see no sign of drugmakers cutting prices, despite Trump claims | Manchin hits opponent on ObamaCare lawsuit Manchin hits opponent on ObamaCare lawsuit with new ad MORE (W.Va.), Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillThis week: Senate tries to avoid landmines on massive spending bill The Hill's Morning Report: Dems have a majority in the Senate (this week) Schumer to meet with Kavanaugh on Tuesday MORE (Mo.), Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerWith lives at stake, Congress must start acting on health care To make the House of Representatives work again, make it bigger Reforms can stop members of Congress from using their public office for private gain MORE (N.Y.) and Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerOvernight Defense: Pentagon says Trump canceled parade before cost briefing | Erik Prince renews push for contractors to run Afghan war | More officials join outcry over security clearances Dem senator introduces proposal to rein in Trump on security clearances Schumer blasts Trump over security clearances: This happens in dictatorships MORE (Va.). King has also not said how he will vote.

Pompeo met with Warner and McCaskill on Wednesday and had previously met with Manchin and Heitkamp. 

“Still working on it. ... We had a good conversation. We’re having more of them,” Manchin said on Wednesday.

Pompeo’s nomination could get a boost from the news this week that he took a secret trip over the Easter holiday to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. That trip was made to lay the groundwork for Trump’s in-person meeting with the North Korean leader, which is expected to happen early this summer.

While Democrats praised the administration for the outreach to North Korea, it didn’t immediately move the needle on Pompeo’s vote count.

“I think it’s positive that they are beginning to do some of the underlying work before negotiations begin,” said Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenBusinesses fear blowback from Russia sanctions bill Hillicon Valley: Trump officials deliver show of force on election security | Apple hits trillion | How fake Facebook groups manipulated real activists | Senate group seeks new Russia sanctions Senators introduce bill to slap 'crushing' new sanctions on Russia MORE (D-N.H.), while adding it didn’t change her vote. 

A slate of other Democratic senators also remain on the fence. Sen. Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyTop Koch official fires back at critics: We are not an 'appendage' of the GOP Dem senator: Media should stop covering Trump rallies like they're breaking news The Hill's Morning Report: Trump tries to rescue Ohio House seat as GOP midterm fears grow MORE Jr. (D-Pa.), who opposed Pompeo last year, indicated that he remains undecided.

“We’re still looking at that. I still have a long way to go in terms of reviewing his record,” said Casey, who is up for reelection this year in a state won by Trump.

And while Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump showcases ICE ahead of midterm elections Sentencing reform deal heats up, pitting Trump against reliable allies The Hill's Morning Report: Dems have a majority in the Senate (this week) MORE (R-Ark.) told reporters during a White House conference call that he believes Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) will ultimately vote for Pompeo, Jones stressed on Wednesday that he has yet to make a decision. 

“I’ve never been anything other than I’m keeping an open mind both ways. ... No one should assume I’m voting one way or another,” Jones said.

Republicans want to confirm Pompeo before the Senate leaves for recess at the end of next week.

Democratic leadership isn’t publicly pushing the caucus one way or the other. In addition to Schumer, Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinWhat crime did Manafort allegedly commit? This week: Senate tries to avoid landmines on massive spending bill Dems to challenge Kavanaugh for White House records MORE (Ill.) — the No. 2 Senate Democrat — has yet to say how he’ll vote. Durbin met with Pompeo on Wednesday.

Democratic senators are facing heavy pressure from both sides, with liberals demanding they block Pompeo and Republicans accusing them of playing politics.

“There is no way the Senate should confirm someone so vastly unqualified — and so deeply in the pocket of corporate special interests — to serve as secretary of state,” said Credo Action, a progressive group, urging its supporters to reject Pompeo, whom they describe as a “xenophobic, pro-torture, climate-denying war hawk.”

Scott Dworkin, a co-founder of the Democratic Coalition, urged supporters to call Sen. Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsForeign Relations senators push back on WH aid cut White House weighs clawing back State, foreign aid funding Graham: Flynn should lose security clearance MORE (D-Del.) and tell him to oppose Pompeo, saying his indecision was an “absolute outrage.” 

“The right is making it look like you are considering a yes vote. And people are outraged. If you are on the fence we deserve to know why, especially after his testimony,” Dworkin said in a tweet directed at Coons.

But Republicans are zeroing in on Democrats up for reelection in November, warning them that voters won’t take kindly to them blocking nominees after Trump won their states during the presidential election. 

Cotton and White House adviser Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne Elizabeth ConwayConway asks why White House reporters are 'obsessed' with Trump Conway blasts Brennan: 'Why is he screaming' about losing his clearance 'on a lower-rated cable network?' Gorka: I signed NDAs in the White House, during Trump campaign MORE held a call on Wednesday pressing vulnerable Democrats to support Pompeo.

“The only reason they’re not is because of their blind partisanship and the fact that they are still not over the results of the 2016 election,” Cotton said.

He added that if Democrats vote against Pompeo “and they’re up for reelection, they may suffer the consequences.”

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin Graham2020 hopefuls skeptical of criminal justice deal with Trump Senate gets to work in August — but many don’t show up Graham: Flynn should lose security clearance MORE (R-S.C.) called the standoff over Pompeo a “low point.”

“Elections matter … when they win,” he said. “When we win, they don’t matter.”