Dems walk tightrope on Pompeo nomination

Democrats are navigating a political minefield as they weigh their support for Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoHouse panel halts contempt proceedings against Pompeo after documents turned over Outgoing ambassador to China slams Beijing over coronavirus: 'Could have been contained in Wuhan' Hillicon Valley: FBI chief says Russia is trying to interfere in election to undermine Biden | Treasury Dept. sanctions Iranian government-backed hackers MORE’s nomination as secretary of State.

With Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSecond GOP senator to quarantine after exposure to coronavirus GOP senator to quarantine after coronavirus exposure The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by National Industries for the Blind - Trump seeks to flip 'Rage' narrative; Dems block COVID-19 bill MORE (R-Ky.) opposed and Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMcSally says current Senate should vote on Trump nominee Say what you will about the presidential candidates, as long as it isn't 'They're too old' The electoral reality that the media ignores 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 TrumpObama calls on Senate not to fill Ginsburg's vacancy until after election Planned Parenthood: 'The fate of our rights' depends on Ginsburg replacement Progressive group to spend M in ad campaign on Supreme Court vacancy MORE took office.

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Fifteen members of the Democratic conference, including Sen. Angus KingAngus KingShakespeare Theatre Company goes virtual for 'Will on the Hill...or Won't They?' On The Trail: How Nancy Pelosi could improbably become president Angus King: Ending election security briefings 'looks like a pre-cover-up' 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 ReedWhen 'Buy American' and common sense collide Hillicon Valley: Russia 'amplifying' concerns around mail-in voting to undermine election | Facebook and Twitter take steps to limit Trump remarks on voting | Facebook to block political ads ahead of election Top Democrats press Trump to sanction Russian individuals over 2020 election interference efforts 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 TillersonGary Cohn: 'I haven't made up my mind' on vote for president in November Kushner says 'Alice in Wonderland' describes Trump presidency: Woodward book Conspicuous by their absence from the Republican Convention 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 ReidSenate Republicans signal openness to working with Biden Mellman: The likely voter sham Bottom line 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 DonnellyEx-Sen. Joe Donnelly endorses Biden Lobbying world 70 former senators propose bipartisan caucus for incumbents MORE (Ind.), Maggie HassanMargaret (Maggie) HassanCongress needs to prioritize government digital service delivery Senate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Hillicon Valley: Feds warn hackers targeting critical infrastructure | Twitter exploring subscription service | Bill would give DHS cyber agency subpoena power MORE (N.H.), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampCentrists, progressives rally around Harris pick for VP 70 former senators propose bipartisan caucus for incumbents Susan Collins set to play pivotal role in impeachment drama MORE (N.D.), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinBiden promises Democratic senators help in battleground states Senate leaders quash talk of rank-and-file COVID-19 deal OVERNIGHT ENERGY: House Democrats tee up vote on climate-focused energy bill next week | EPA reappoints controversial leader to air quality advisory committee | Coronavirus creates delay in Pentagon research for alternative to 'forever chemicals' MORE (W.Va.), Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillDemocratic-linked group runs ads in Kansas GOP Senate primary Trump mocked for low attendance at rally Missouri county issues travel advisory for Lake of the Ozarks after Memorial Day parties MORE (Mo.), Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerPelosi orders Capitol flags at half-staff to honor Ginsburg Ginsburg in statement before her death said she wished not to be replaced until next president is sworn in Democrats call for NRA Foundation to be prohibited from receiving donations from federal employees MORE (N.Y.) and Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerIntelligence chief says Congress will get some in-person election security briefings Overnight Defense: Trump hosts Israel, UAE, Bahrain for historic signing l Air Force reveals it secretly built and flew new fighter jet l Coronavirus creates delay in Pentagon research for alternative to 'forever chemicals' House approves bill to secure internet-connected federal devices against cyber threats 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 ShaheenSenate Democrats introduce bill to sanction Russians over Taliban bounties Trump-backed candidate wins NH GOP Senate primary to take on Shaheen Democratic senator urges Trump to respond to Russian aggression 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 CaseySecond GOP senator to quarantine after exposure to coronavirus GAO report finds brokers offered false info on coverage for pre-existing conditions Catholic group launches .7M campaign against Biden targeting swing-state voters 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 CottonTom Bryant CottonRenewed focus on Trump's Supreme Court list after Ginsburg's death Republicans call for DOJ to prosecute Netflix executives for releasing 'Cuties' Loeffler calls for hearing in wake of Netflix's 'Cuties' 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 DurbinMcConnell focuses on confirming judicial nominees with COVID-19 talks stalled Senate Republicans signal openness to working with Biden Top GOP senator calls for Biden to release list of possible Supreme Court picks 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 CoonsBiden promises Democratic senators help in battleground states Shakespeare Theatre Company goes virtual for 'Will on the Hill...or Won't They?' The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by The Air Line Pilots Association - Pence lauds Harris as 'experienced debater'; Trump, Biden diverge over debate prep 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 ConwayGeorge and Kellyanne Conway honor Ginsburg Trump carries on with rally, unaware of Ginsburg's death George Conway hits Trump on 9/11 anniversary: 'The greatest threat to the safety and security of Americans' 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 GrahamSenate Republicans face tough decision on replacing Ginsburg Democratic senator calls for eliminating filibuster, expanding Supreme Court if GOP fills vacancy What Senate Republicans have said about election-year Supreme Court vacancies 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.”