White House expecting 'close' vote for CIA pick

The White House is bracing for a heated fight over CIA Deputy Director Gina Haspel’s nomination to lead the agency, as she prepares to head to Capitol Hill next week.

“I think that unfortunately in this environment we accept that every vote is close. ... It’s just the dynamic we face,” Marc Short, the director of legislative affairs, told reporters during a conference call.

He added that he hoped some Democrats would be “courageous enough” to support Haspel despite engrained opposition from progressives and allied outside groups.

Haspel is poised to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee next week to testify as part of the confirmation process. She is expected to be grilled over her past involvement with enhanced interrogation techniques, among other things. 


Haspel has already met with some Democrats on the committee as well as GOP members of the panel, some of whom have yet to say if they will support Haspel.

GOP Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsHillicon Valley: Lawmakers struggle to understand Facebook's Libra project | EU hits Amazon with antitrust probe | New cybersecurity concerns over census | Robocall, election security bills head to House floor | Privacy questions over FaceApp Trump angry more Republicans haven't defended his tweets: report Republicans scramble to contain Trump fallout MORE (Maine), a key moderate and member of the panel, has said she is waiting until Haspel’s hearing to make her decision.

Short directed a question on Wednesday about Collins’s position to her office, but predicted Trump would be personally involved in trying to win over support for Haspel's nomination. 

“He’s willing to do that certainly for Gina Haspel. He’s had a couple of conversations with members but probably more of that will happen after her hearing,” he said.

With GOP Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulFirst responder calls senators blocking 9/11 victim funding 'a--holes' The Hill's Morning Report - Trump seizes House impeachment vote to rally GOP Jon Stewart rips into Rand Paul after he blocks 9/11 victim compensation fund: 'An abomination' MORE (Ky.) currently opposed to her nomination, Haspel will need to win over at least one Democratic senator to be confirmed. No Democrats have stepped forward yet.

Short said on Wednesday that Paul hasn’t yet met with Haspel but pressed him to keep an “open mind.”

“We note that Gina was born in Kentucky, … so we hope that the senator from Kentucky will take the time to sit down with her and hear her personal testimony and afford her an audience,” he said. 

Paul previously said he would oppose Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoIn Afghanistan, give peace a chance — and a lot of time The Hill's Morning Report - Trump seizes House impeachment vote to rally GOP Mystery surrounds elusive sanctions on Russia MORE’s nomination, only to reverse his position after an intense pressure campaign by Trump. 

Underscoring the uphill battle she faces, the White House is launching a full-court charm offensive to try to bolster support for Haspel's nomination.

They blasted out a release to reporters Wednesday trumpeting support from former intelligence officials who have been deeply critical of the Trump administration, including former Director of National Intelligence James ClapperJames Robert ClapperA brief timeline of Trump's clashes with intelligence director Dan Coats New study suggests Trump's 2016 poll numbers rose after increased Russian troll farm tweets Trump raises 2020 stakes by elevating North Korea, China on agenda MORE.

"I noted that certainly there are critics who also support her candidacy. I think that speaks to what a strong candidate she is for this role,” Short told reporters on the conference call. 

Haspel, if confirmed, would be the CIA’s first female director. But she faces skepticism from Democrats, as well as some Republicans, over her role overseeing a CIA black site and the destruction of videotapes documenting the interrogations of two men. 

Pressed on making more information about Haspel available, Short said the administration is “trying to be as cooperative as possible with all inquires into her background.”

“We will continue to look to try to declassify additional documents regarding Haspel’s work the agency,” he said.

The CIA told lawmakers this week that it will allow them to view some of the classified information involving Haspel, but Democrats want the agency to declassify and publicly release details of her career.