Dems walk tightrope on Pompeo nomination

Democrats are navigating a political minefield as they weigh their support for Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoTrump must move beyond the art of the deal in North Korea talks Pompeo speaks with South Korean counterpart after Trump nixes Kim summit The Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — Trump now says Korea summit could still happen June 12 MORE’s nomination as secretary of State.

With Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGOP senators introduce Trump's plan to claw back billion in spending Pro-Trump super PAC raises .5 million in 6 weeks Trump has exposed Democratic hypocrisy on prison reform MORE (R-Ky.) opposed and Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainTo woo black voters in Georgia, Dems need to change their course of action Senate panel again looks to force Trump’s hand on cyber warfare strategy Senate panel advances 6B defense policy bill 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: Meetings on potential North Korea summit going 'very well' Freed American 'overwhelmed with gratitude' after being released from Venezuela Ivanka Trump to campaign for Devin Nunes in California MORE took office.

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Fifteen members of the Democratic conference, including Sen. Angus KingAngus Stanley KingFor .2 billion, taxpayers should get more than Congress’s trial balloons Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by PCMA — Trump hits federally funded clinics with new abortion restrictions Dem senators ask drug companies to list prices in ads 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 ReedSenate panel again looks to force Trump’s hand on cyber warfare strategy Overnight Defense: Pompeo lays out new Iran terms | Pentagon hints at more aggressive posture against Iran | House, Senate move on defense bill Defense bill moves forward with lawmakers thinking about McCain 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 TillersonGOP fundraiser claims foreign government helped hack his emails Five takeaways on the canceled Trump summit with Kim Dem lawmaker confronts Pompeo over spending cuts to diplomatic security 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 ReidMcConnell not yet ready to change rules for Trump nominees The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by CVS Health — Trump’s love-hate relationship with the Senate Trump to press GOP on changing Senate rules 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 DonnellyOvernight Finance: Trump signs Dodd-Frank rollback | Snubs key Dems at ceremony | Senate confirms banking regulator | Lawmakers lash out on Trump auto tariffs Trump signs Dodd-Frank rollback Trump doesn't invite key Dems to signing ceremony on their bill MORE (Ind.), Maggie HassanMargaret (Maggie) HassanOvernight Health Care — Sponsored by PCMA — VA reform bill heads to Trump's desk Senators introduce bill to measure progress in opioid fight Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by PCMA — Trump hits federally funded clinics with new abortion restrictions MORE (N.H.), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampOvernight Finance: Trump signs Dodd-Frank rollback | Snubs key Dems at ceremony | Senate confirms banking regulator | Lawmakers lash out on Trump auto tariffs Trump signs Dodd-Frank rollback Trump doesn't invite key Dems to signing ceremony on their bill MORE (N.D.), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinOvernight Finance: House sends Dodd-Frank rollbacks to Trump | What's in the bill | Trump says there is 'no deal' to help ZTE | Panel approves bill to toughen foreign investment reviews House votes to ease regulation of banks, sending bill to Trump Senators demand answers on Trump’s ZTE deal MORE (W.Va.), Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillMcConnell sees Ohio in play as confidence about midterms grows   Protect air ambulance services that fill the health care access gap in rural America Dems seek to chip away at Trump’s economic record MORE (Mo.), Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerOvernight Finance: White House planning new tax cut proposal this summer | Schumer wants Congress to block reported ZTE deal | Tech scrambles to comply with new data rules OPEC and Russia may raise oil output under pressure from Trump The Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — GOP centrists in striking distance of immigration vote MORE (N.Y.) and Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerThe Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by PhRMA — The art of walking away from the deal Giuliani: Trump asked White House lawyer to go to Russia briefings Top Intel Dems denounce presence of Trump lawyer at classified briefings 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 ShaheenHillicon Valley: Sweeping new data rules take effect | Facebook, Google already hit with complaints | Schumer slams reported ZTE deal | Senators look to save cyber post | Dem wants answers about Trump's phone security Senate panel targets Turkey's participation in F-35 program Judd Gregg: 'Medicare for all' means rationing for everyone 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 CaseySenate Dems to Mnuchin: Don't index capital gains to inflation Senators offer tax bill aimed at helping first responders McConnell: Midterms will be 'very challenging' for GOP 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 CottonSenate confirms Haspel to head CIA Democrats urge colleagues to oppose prison reform bill Trump-backed prison reforms face major obstacles in Senate 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 DurbinTrump has exposed Democratic hypocrisy on prison reform House easily passes prison reform bill backed by Trump This week: House GOP regroups after farm bill failure 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 CoonsDem senator: Trump Jr. may have given 'false testimony' about meeting with foreign nationals Overnight Finance: House sends Dodd-Frank rollbacks to Trump | What's in the bill | Trump says there is 'no deal' to help ZTE | Panel approves bill to toughen foreign investment reviews Congress, Trump eye new agency to invest in projects overseas 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 ConwayKellyanne Conway's husband emails anti-Trump writers on how to improve their arguments: report ICE director supports Trump's 'animals' remark: 'MS-13 kills for sport' Conway pushes CNN's Stelter to say who he voted for in tense exchange 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 GrahamRetired English teacher corrects letter from Trump and sends it back to White House Graham: Trump 'probably' shouldn't call use of FBI informant 'spygate' Graham on canceled summit: Trump thought North Korea was ‘playing him’ 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.”