Senate

Heitkamp becomes first Dem to back Pompeo for secretary of State

Greg Nash

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) said Thursday that she will support President Trump’s nomination of CIA Director Mike Pompeo as secretary of State, virtually guaranteeing he will win confirmation.

Heitkamp, who faces a difficult reelection race this fall in a state Trump won by double-digits, becomes the first Senate Democrat to announce her support for Pompeo.

“The role of the State Department is to support our diplomatic missions to avoid conflict, support American interests, and stand up for our allies, and having a leadership team in place is essential to carrying out those jobs,” she said in a statement.

If he is confirmed, Heitkamp said that she would “hold Mr. Pompeo accountable to make sure he advances our country’s leadership in the world and supports our embassies.”

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Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) opposes Pompeo’s nomination and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has been absent, leaving Republicans with a maximum of 49 votes for his confirmation. Heitkamp’s vote would get them to 50, the simple majority needed to be confirmed.  

Pompeo has been engaged in a flurry of 11th hour one-on-one meetings with Democrats as he’s searched for the crucial swing vote.

Heitkamp met with him late last month but told reporters as recently as Wednesday that she remained undecided as she reviewed his record and the transcripts of his hearing before the Foreign Relations Committee, where she is not a member.

It’s possible Pompeo could lose another GOP vote. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said Thursday that he remains undecided on Pompeo, but he did support him to be CIA director last year.

But a few other Democrats facing tough reelection races in states won by Trump may also back Pompeo.

Heitkamp was one of 15 Democrats, including Independent Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), who supported Pompeo’s nomination last year to be secretary of State.

With Heitkamp’s announcement, seven remain on the fence:  Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Maggie Hassan (N.H.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Minority Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.), Mark Warner (Va.) and King.

Pompeo may still get an unfavorable vote next week from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. No Democrats on the panel are backing Pompeo, and Paul is also an expected “no” vote.

With Republicans holding a one-seat advantage on the panel, he would need to win over at least one Democrat to get a favorable vote. Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) is the only Democrat who hasn’t announced how he will vote. But he previously opposed Pompeo to be CIA director and has said he’s leaning against supporting him for his current nomination. 

Heitkamp on Thursday said that she decided to vote for Pompeo after she showed that he is “committed to empowering” State Department diplomats after the agency’s morale took a hit as former secretary of State Rex Tillerson tried to restructure and cut staffing at the department.  

“Pompeo demonstrated during this nomination process and during our meeting in March that he is committed to empowering the diplomats at the State Department so they can do their jobs in advancing American interests,” she said.

Democrats are under a mountain of pressure from both sides as they weigh Pompeo’s nomination. 
 
Progressive and liberal outside groups immediately panned Heitkamp’s decision. 

 

Nicole Brener-Schmitz, the political director for NARAL Pro-Choice America, said the group was “very disappointed.”

 
“A vote in favor of Mike Pompeo is simply irreconcilable with being a true champion for women and girls,” she added.
 
MoveOn also sent its supporters an email urging them to tell Heitkamp to reconsider her decision and “stop Pompeo in order to stop a war.”
 
“Sen. Heitkamp is declaring her vote in favor of Pompeo even after over 20 Senate Democrats have already spoken out. …Sen. Heitkamp should listen to her constituents and her colleagues who have serious concerns about this appointment,” the group wrote in the email to its supporters. 

Updated at 6:34 p.m. 

Tags Angus King Charles Schumer Chris Coons cia director Claire McCaskill Donald Trump Heidi Heitkamp Jeff Flake Joe Donnelly Joe Manchin John McCain Maggie Hassan Mark Warner Mike Pompeo Rand Paul Rex Tillerson secretary of State Senate

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