Dems walk tightrope on Pompeo nomination

Democrats are navigating a political minefield as they weigh their support for Mike PompeoMike PompeoSunday shows preview: Coronavirus dominates as country struggles with delta variant Christie, Pompeo named co-chairs of GOP redistricting group America needs a new strategy for Pacific Island Countries MORE’s nomination as secretary of State.

With Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSenate lawmakers let frustration show with Blinken Rand Paul: 'Hatred for Trump' blocking research into ivermectin as COVID-19 treatment Masks and vaccines: What price freedom? MORE (R-Ky.) opposed and Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCain20 years after 9/11, US foreign policy still struggles for balance What the chaos in Afghanistan can remind us about the importance of protecting democracy at home 'The View' plans series of conservative women as temporary McCain replacements 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 TrumpKinzinger says Trump 'winning' because so many Republicans 'have remained silent' Our remote warfare counterterrorism strategy is more risk than reward Far-right rally draws small crowd, large police presence at Capitol MORE took office.

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Fifteen members of the Democratic conference, including Sen. Angus KingAngus KingSenate backers of new voting rights bill push for swift passage Stacey Abrams backs Senate Democrats' voting rights compromise NY Democrat tests positive for COVID-19 in latest House breakthrough case 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 ReedJack ReedTop Republican: General told senators he opposed Afghanistan withdrawal We have a plan that prioritizes Afghanistan's women — we're just not using it This week: Democrats kick off chaotic fall with Biden's agenda at stake 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 TillersonThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by AT&T - Supreme Court lets Texas abortion law stand Trump-era ban on travel to North Korea extended Want to evaluate Donald Trump's judgment? Listen to Donald Trump 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 ReidDemocrats say Biden must get more involved in budget fight Biden looks to climate to sell economic agenda Justice Breyer issues warning on remaking Supreme Court: 'What goes around comes around' 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 DonnellyRepublicans may regret restricting reproductive rights Sanders traveling to Iowa, Indiana to pitch Biden's spending package Supreme Court battle could wreak havoc with Biden's 2020 agenda MORE (Ind.), Maggie HassanMargaret (Maggie) HassanOvernight Hillicon Valley — Majority supports national data privacy standards, poll finds Senator calls on agencies to take action to prevent criminal cryptocurrency use Trump praises NH Senate candidate as Sununu weighs own bid MORE (N.H.), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampProgressives prepare to launch counterattack in tax fight Business groups aim to divide Democrats on .5T spending bill On The Money: Powell signals Fed will soon cut stimulus MORE (N.D.), Joe ManchinJoe ManchinBriahna Joy Gray: Push toward major social spending amid pandemic was 'short-lived' Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Emissions heading toward pre-pandemic levels Biden discusses agenda with Schumer, Pelosi ahead of pivotal week MORE (W.Va.), Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillRepublicans may regret restricting reproductive rights Sunday shows preview: States deal with fallout of Ida; Texas abortion law takes effect Giuliani to stump for Greitens in Missouri MORE (Mo.), Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBiden discusses agenda with Schumer, Pelosi ahead of pivotal week CEOs urge Congress to raise debt limit or risk 'avoidable crisis' If .5 trillion 'infrastructure' bill fails, it's bye-bye for an increasingly unpopular Biden MORE (N.Y.) and Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerAdvocates call on top Democrats for 0B in housing investments Democrats draw red lines in spending fight Manchin puts foot down on key climate provision in spending bill 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 lawmakers let frustration show with Blinken We have a plan that prioritizes Afghanistan's women — we're just not using it Scott Brown's wife files to run for Congress 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 CaseyCaring for the whole life and the whole woman is hard, but right Democratic senators request probe into Amazon's treatment of pregnant employees Abortion rights groups want Biden to use bully pulpit after Texas law 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 CottonOvernight Defense & National Security — Milley becomes lightning rod Joint Chiefs Chairman Milley becomes lightning rod on right Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Senate Democrats ding Biden energy proposal 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 DurbinDick DurbinManchin keeps Washington guessing on what he wants Democrats hope Biden can flip Manchin and Sinema US gymnasts offer scathing assessment of FBI 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 CoonsChris Andrew CoonsBiden threatens more sanctions on Ethiopia, Eritrea over Tigray conflict Senate Democrats to Garland: 'It's time to end the federal death penalty' Hillicon Valley: Cryptocurrency amendment blocked in Senate | Dems press Facebook over suspension of researchers' accounts | Thousands push back against Apple plan to scan US iPhones for child sexual abuse images 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 ConwayPsaki defends move to oust Trump appointees from military academy boards Defense & National Security: The post-airlift evacuation struggle Conway and Spicer fire back at White House over board resignation requests 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 GrahamThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - Tight security for Capitol rally; Biden agenda slows Trump offers sympathy for those charged with Jan. 6 offenses Lindsey Graham: Police need 'to take a firm line' with Sept. 18 rally attendees 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.”