Pompeo sees status grow with Bolton exit

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has solidified his status as President Trump’s most influential adviser on foreign policy with the ouster of former national security adviser John Bolton.

Trump on Wednesday tore into Bolton, mocking him as “Mr. Tough Guy” and blaming him for causing setbacks on North Korea and lamenting that he made “some very big mistakes.”

By comparison, Pompeo has maintained a strong relationship with the president and emerged as one of his most trusted allies by falling in line with Trump’s final decisions. 

{mosads}“From day one, Mike has understood that he’s there to advance the president’s agenda and not his own. That is essential in a Trump administration,” said former White House press secretary Sean Spicer, who worked with Pompeo during the first several months of the Trump administration. 

In contrast, Spicer said it was clear to him from Trump’s remarks about Bolton “that the president felt as though John had his own agenda in many cases.” 

Pompeo, a former Republican congressman, is viewed as a loyalist to Trump, and has pushed the president’s “America First” agenda even as his own conservative foreign policy views have seemed to place him at odds with some of those initiatives. 

One State Department official told The Hill that the department is in the driver’s seat on policies that the White House’s National Security Council would have run point on in the past, pointing specifically to the administration’s agenda in the Middle East. 

The official also said that Pompeo has effectively balanced managing the State Department and providing input to Trump, which has earned him respect among individuals in Foggy Bottom as well as the White House. 

Pompeo and Bolton were thought to have clashed, and Trump said disagreements between Bolton and “very important” people within the administration had contributed to his ouster.

Trump didn’t identify the “very important” people, but it was easy to believe that Pompeo was among them, and Trump’s choice of words underscored the secretary of State’s own high standing.

Pompeo acknowledged disagreements with Bolton on Tuesday and appeared jovial after the security chief’s ouster at a news conference with reporters. 

“I’m never surprised,” Pompeo told reporters at the White House when asked whether he was blindsided by Bolton’s exit. 

One of only a handful of Cabinet officials to be with the Trump administration from the start, Pompeo, then the CIA director, obtained a promotion of sorts in March 2018, when Trump ousted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and replaced him with Pompeo.

Pompeo was credited with restoring morale among State’s rank-and-file employees that had eroded under Tillerson soon after taking over.

Since then, his influence has steadily increased, along with his national profile. Pompeo has been floated as a top contender to run for Senate next year in his native Kansas.

Pompeo is a leading figure of foreign policy efforts that have taken priority under Trump. He’s been spearheading negotiations with North Korea over ending Pyongyang’s nuclear program while maintaining the pressure of sanctions. 

Pompeo, an Iran hawk, has taken a key role in executing the administration’s “maximum pressure campaign” on Tehran, while also broaching a potential meeting between Trump and the Iranian government to stem the confrontation following the administration’s withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear agreement on Tehran. 

Pompeo, who rarely breaks with the president publicly, appeared on morning cable news shows on Sunday to defend Trump’s defunct plans to bring the Taliban to Camp David to finalize peace negotiations to end the war in Afghanistan. 

Outside observers of the administration said they expect Bolton’s replacement to be someone who is more aligned with Trump’s isolationist tendencies. Bolton has long been an advocate for an expansive U.S. military presence globally, something that put him at odds with Trump, for instance, on the president’s efforts to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan. 

Trump’s special envoy to Iran, Brian Hook; the administration’s envoy to North Korea, Stephen Biegun; and U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell are among the names that have been floated as potential picks. 

The president said Wednesday he has five people in mind and he’d make an announcement about the position next week.

Charles Kupchan, who served as director of European Affairs for the national security council during the Obama and Clinton administrations, noted that Bolton’s hawkish influence may have kept Trump from withdrawing troops from Syria and Afghanistan.

The president went as far as to tweet out that he was bringing troops home from Syria before the administration altered its strategy to leave a force stationed in the region, and he has been outspoken about seeking an end to the conflict in Afghanistan.

“I think Trump has generally done what he’s wanted to,” Kupchan said.

“There’s pushback, but the overall direction of foreign policy is Trumpian,” he added. “In general, he’s good at delivering on his promises, and that’s why I think, come hell or high water, we’ll be on our way out of Syria and Afghanistan by the 2020 election.”

Pompeo has been able to sway the president on certain issues. He was among the officials who pushed last month for the administration to scale back proposed cuts to foreign aid, and Trump ultimately opted not to follow through with the plan.

The secretary of State has been adept thus far at picking his spots and remaining on Trump’s good side. Other top national security officials, such as Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, have departed the administration after falling out of favor with Trump or challenging him on key issues. 

Even as his influence grew with news of Bolton’s exit, Pompeo was careful to point out Tuesday that nobody other than the president was driving the administration’s foreign policy strategy.

“I watched [Trump’s] campaign. I’ve now worked with him first as CIA director and now as secretary of State. Someone asked, ‘Would the policy be different absent any individual being here?’ ” Pompeo said when asked how Bolton’s views were out of line with the president’s.

“These have been the president’s policies,” he continued. “We give him our best wisdom. We share with him our understanding. … But I don’t think any leader around the world should make any assumption that because some one of us departs, that President Trump’s foreign policy will change in a material way.”

Tags Dan Coats Donald Trump John Bolton Mike Pompeo Rex Tillerson Sean Spicer
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