Dems walk tightrope on Pompeo nomination

Democrats are navigating a political minefield as they weigh their support for Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoGOP reasserts NATO support after report on Trump’s wavering Iran conducts failed satellite launch, despite US warning White House announces reduced delegation to travel to Davos amid shutdown MORE’s nomination as secretary of State.

With Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulMedia fails spectacularly at smearing Rand Paul for surgery in Canada Rand Paul to have hernia surgery in Canada Ron Paul: Remove incentives for illegal immigrants instead of building border wall MORE (R-Ky.) opposed and Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainTrump is right: Walls work on the southern border How news media omissions distort Russia probe narrative ... and shield Democrats Arizona city council halts work on mural honoring John McCain over ‘protocol’ concerns, neighbor complaints 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 TrumpVeterans groups demand end to shutdown: 'Get your act together' Brown launches tour in four early nominating states amid 2020 consideration Pence on border wall: Trump won't be ‘deterred’ by Dem ‘obstruction’ MORE took office.

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Fifteen members of the Democratic conference, including Sen. Angus KingAngus Stanley KingGOP senators challenge Trump on shutdown strategy Will Trump declare an emergency tonight? Only he knows for sure Senate in last-minute talks to find deal to avert shutdown  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 ReedOvernight Defense: Senators say questions remain after Syria briefing | Trump inches closer to declaring emergency to build wall | Air Force accepts Boeing tankers despite flaws Senators say questions remain on Trump strategy in Syria after briefing Trump's military moves accelerate GOP search for next McCain 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 TillersonTrump concealed details of meetings with Putin from senior officials: report Forget the border wall, a coup in Guatemala is the real emergency Tweets, confirmations and rallies: Trump's year in numbers 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 ReidHarry Reid knocks Ocasio-Cortez's tax proposal: Fast 'radical change' doesn't work Overnight Defense: Trump rejects Graham call to end shutdown | Coast Guard on track to miss Tuesday paychecks | Dems eye Trump, Russia probes | Trump talks with Erdogan after making threat to Turkey's economy Harry Reid on Iraq War vote: 'It tainted my heart' 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 DonnellyEPA's Wheeler faces grilling over rule rollbacks Some Senate Dems see Ocasio-Cortez as weak spokeswoman for party Senate approves funding bill, preventing partial government shutdown MORE (Ind.), Maggie HassanMargaret (Maggie) HassanNew Hampshire's secretary of state narrowly holds seat New Hampshire Dem icon at risk after work with Trump Dem senators call on DeVos to rescind new campus sexual assault policies MORE (N.H.), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampEPA's Wheeler faces grilling over rule rollbacks 2020 Election: Democrats can’t afford to ignore their Israel problem Hirono will donate salary earned during government shutdown MORE (N.D.), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinLeaders nix recess with no shutdown deal in sight EPA's Wheeler faces grilling over rule rollbacks The Hill's Morning Report — No new negotiations as shutdown hits 25 days MORE (W.Va.), Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillThe Hill’s 12:30 Report: Trump AG pick Barr grilled at hearing | Judge rules against census citizenship question | McConnell blocks second House bill to reopen government Ex-Sen. McCaskill joins NBC, MSNBC Some Senate Dems see Ocasio-Cortez as weak spokeswoman for party MORE (Mo.), Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerOvernight Health Care: Dem chair meets Trump health chief on drug prices | Trump officials sued over new Kentucky Medicaid work rules | Democrats vow to lift ban on federal funds for abortions We can’t tackle climate change if we ignore the main polluter — transportation Hoyer introducing legislation to block Trump from lifting sanctions on Russian companies MORE (N.Y.) and Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerLeaders nix recess with no shutdown deal in sight Mobile providers at center of privacy storm Senators restart shutdown talks — and quickly hit roadblocks 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 ShaheenGOP reasserts NATO support after report on Trump’s wavering Some Senate Dems see Ocasio-Cortez as weak spokeswoman for party The Hill's Morning Report — Trump eyes wall money options as shutdown hits 21 days 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 CaseyWHIP LIST: Who’s in and out in the 2020 race Senators' last-minute demands may delay funding bill Would-be 2020 Dem candidates head for the exits 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 CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonOvernight Defense: Trump faces blowback over report he discussed leaving NATO | Pentagon extends mission on border | Senate advances measure bucking Trump on Russia sanctions Senate advances measure bucking Trump on Russia sanctions How not to withdraw from Syria 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 DurbinTrump AG pick: I won't be 'bullied' by anyone, including the president Live coverage: Trump AG pick grilled on Mueller probe at confirmation hearing Senate Dems set to take aim at new Trump attorney general pick 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 CoonsSunday shows preview: Washington heads into multi-day shutdown Overnight Energy: Senators introduce bipartisan carbon tax bill | House climate panel unlikely to have subpoena power | Trump officials share plan to prevent lead poisoning Flake to co-introduce bipartisan climate bill 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 ConwayTrump’s polls sag amid wall fight George Conway: Nothing Trump says 'can be taken at face value' Sarah Sanders and CNN's Acosta trade barbs over border visit 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 GrahamPence on border wall: Trump won't be ‘deterred’ by Dem ‘obstruction’ AG pick Barr emphasizes independence from Trump Leaders nix recess with no shutdown deal in sight 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.”