Senators weigh support for CIA pick after McCain move

Republican senators offered deference to GOP Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainThe Memo: Summit fallout hits White House Graham: Biggest problem is Trump ‘believes meddling equals collusion’ Obama, Bush veterans dismiss Trump-Putin interpreter subpoena MORE (Ariz.) on Thursday but gave few signs that his opposition to CIA nominee Gina Haspel would sink her nomination. 

McCain was captured and tortured during the Vietnam War and has long been an outspoken opponent of the harsh interrogation techniques used during the George W. Bush administration. 

Haspel, a veteran of the spy agency, was involved in the interrogations program, helping prompt McCain’s opposition to her nomination.  

He became the second GOP senator to oppose Haspel, saying her “refusal to acknowledge torture's immorality is disqualifying.”

McCain remains in Arizona battling brain cancer, leaving him unable to buttonhole and lobby his colleagues against Haspel’s nomination in person. 

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Facing a flurry questions from reporters, GOP senators expressed their respect for McCain but said they are moving forward with the nominee. 

“Each senator has to make his or her own decision,” said GOP Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report — Russia furor grips Washington Overnight Health Care: Novartis pulls back on drug price hikes | House Dems launch Medicare for All caucus | Trump officials pushing ahead on Medicaid work requirements Senate panel to vote next week on banning 'gag clauses' in pharmacy contracts MORE (Maine), who added that McCain’s words were “powerful.” Though Collins and McCain teamed up last year to help stop an ObamaCare repeal bill, Collins said this week she would support Haspel. 

“God bless him. ... When Sen. John McCain speaks, people listen,” said Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.), before adding: “But my personal opinion is that the deputy director is eminently qualified." 

Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyJuan Williams: Putin wins as GOP spins Five things to watch for in Trump-Putin summit GOP senators visited Moscow on July 4, warned Russia against meddling in 2018 election: report MORE (R-Ala.) added: "McCain is not always right and never has been." 

McCain’s opposition to Haspel comes as her nomination is facing a perilously narrow path in the Senate. 

With Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump and Congress at odds over Russia GOP leader blocks resolution backing intelligence community on Russia Rand Paul blocks Sanders's Russia resolution, calls it 'crazy hatred' against Trump MORE (R-Ky.) opposed, Haspel needs at least one Democratic vote to win confirmation. If McCain were able to return for the vote — which is expected to take place before the Memorial Day recess — Haspel would need support from two Democrats. 

Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinTrump Jr. to hold fundraiser for Manchin challenger History argues for Democratic Senate gains Pollster: Kavanaugh will get Dem votes MORE (D-W.Va.) became the first Democrat to say he would support Haspel. He stood by that decision on Thursday, but suggested McCain’s opposition could impact others.

“If I hadn’t seen all of the facts, classified or unclassified, this would have probably been a factor to me. So I could see a lot of my colleagues, the respect we have for John McCain … we are all very sensitive to that,” Manchin said. 

Several Republican senators remain on the fence over the nomination. If McCain were able to influence any of them, it would complicate Haspel’s path to confirmation. 

Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeHistory argues for Democratic Senate gains GOP to White House: End summit mystery The Hill's Morning Report — Trump and Congress at odds over Russia MORE (R-Ariz.) said he remains undecided about Haspel but McCain’s opinion “means a lot not only to me but to others as well." 

But he also ruled out essentially casting a proxy vote for McCain, even though he shares the elder Arizona senator’s view on torture. 

“I have my own franchise but I certainly respect his voice on this. I always have. I've always shared his views, so his voice is important,” he said. 

GOP Sens. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCongress has five ways to show American power against Russia History argues for Democratic Senate gains GOP to White House: End summit mystery MORE (Tenn.) and Mike RoundsMarion (Mike) Michael RoundsKey GOP senator says ‘no question’ Russia is meddling in U.S. affairs GOP Senator: 'Very inappropriate' for Trump to discuss allowing Russia to question US citizens Election security bill picks up new support in Senate MORE (S.D.) said they have questions about Haspel’s role in the destruction of videotapes documenting the waterboarding of an al Qaeda suspect. 

“Based on what I know thus far I lean toward supporting her, but we have some questions just about the destruction of records,” Corker told reporters. 

Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeWisconsin GOP Senate candidate rips his own parents for donations to Dems GOP moderates hint at smooth confirmation ahead for Kavanaugh GOP senators introduce resolution endorsing ICE MORE (R-Utah), a close ally of Paul’s, also remains on the fence. 

Meanwhile, the pool of potential Democratic “yes” votes is shrinking. Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinPutin summit puts spotlight back on Trump's tax returns Sunk judicial pick spills over into Supreme Court fight Senate GOP breaks record on confirming Trump picks for key court MORE (D-Calif.), a former Intelligence Committee chairwoman, announced she would vote against Haspel. 

McCain’s opposition could give cover to red and purple state Democrats to ultimately oppose the CIA nominee. Still hunting for votes, Haspel met Thursday with Democratic Sens. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampHistory argues for Democratic Senate gains Polling analyst: Same Dems who voted for Gorsuch will vote for Kavanaugh Dems pressure GOP to take legal action supporting pre-existing conditions MORE (N.D.), Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineAudience bursts out laughing after GOP Senate candidate says Trump is ‘standing up’ to Russia Graham would consider US-Russia military coordination in Syria Dem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick MORE (Va.) and Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyHistory argues for Democratic Senate gains Polling analyst: Same Dems who voted for Gorsuch will vote for Kavanaugh Pollster: Kavanaugh will get Dem votes MORE (Ind.), who are up for reelection this year.

“I think people around here would be lying to you if they said that it didn't weigh on them,” Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillHistory argues for Democratic Senate gains Polling analyst: Same Dems who voted for Gorsuch will vote for Kavanaugh Pollster: Kavanaugh will get Dem votes MORE (D-Mo.) added. “I can’t imagine anybody who has done more work on this subject than John McCain.”