Democrats mull audacious play to block Pompeo

Democrats are mulling an audacious plan to bottle up President TrumpDonald TrumpSenate rejects attempt to block Biden's Saudi arms sale Crenshaw slams House Freedom Caucus members as 'grifters,' 'performance artists' Senate confirms Biden's nominee to lead Customs and Border Protection MORE’s nominee to head the State Department in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — even though Mike PompeoMike PompeoTo advance democracy, defend Taiwan and Ukraine Haley has 'positive' meeting with Trump No time for the timid: The dual threats of progressives and Trump MORE likely has enough votes to win confirmation on the Senate floor.  

The plan under consideration would involve Democrats on the panel refusing to vote to discharge Pompeo, who is currently the director of the CIA, from the committee with even an unfavorable recommendation.

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This would force Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSchumer tees up key Thursday vote on debt deal House approves bill to ease passage of debt limit hike Senate rejects attempt to block Biden's Saudi arms sale MORE (R-Ky.) to offer a motion to bring Pompeo’s nomination to the Senate floor. Democratic senators and aides say that motion would be subject to a filibuster, allowing Democrats to block Pompeo.

The move is politically risky.

It would heighten partisan tensions and play into President Trump’s arguments that Democrats are actively obstructing him. Democratic Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampVirginia loss lays bare Democrats' struggle with rural voters Washington's oldest contact sport: Lobbyists scrum to dilute or kill Democrats' tax bill Progressives prepare to launch counterattack in tax fight MORE’s (N.D.) announcement Thursday that she will back Pompeo’s nomination means he almost certainly will have at least 50 votes on the floor.

Any procedural victory for Democrats could also be short-lived.

Republicans say that McConnell could simply trigger the so-called nuclear option, whereby he would rule the Democratic maneuver out of order and bring Pompeo’s nomination to the floor. He’d need just a majority vote to do so.

Nonetheless, a group of Democratic senators are pressing Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBuild Back Better Is bad for the states  Dole to lie in state in Capitol Rotunda Biden points to drug prices in call for Senate social spending vote MORE (D-N.Y.) to consider the plan as a way of using Pompeo’s nomination as leverage on another thorny matter: protecting special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerAn unquestioning press promotes Rep. Adam Schiff's book based on Russia fiction Senate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG MORE.

They want to pressure McConnell to agree to a sense-of-the-Senate resolution stating that Mueller should be allowed to complete his investigation.

Schumer’s office declined to comment on its strategy for Pompeo’s nomination or negotiations with McConnell over a floor vote.

Several Democratic senators talked to The Hill about the internal conversations and confirmed the plan is under consideration.

But one of the senators said there’s been no decision and that Schumer could decide the risks are not worth the reward.

“Schumer may be not want to go nuclear. This whole thing with 60 votes, it’s a real nuclear play. It’s first Schumer making the play to require them to go 60, and then the second play is McConnell going nuclear,” the senator said.

Schumer may also want to avoid putting vulnerable Democrats running for reelection in pro-Trump states in a tough position.

Red-state Democrats such as Sens. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinManchin warns about inflation as Democrats pursue Biden spending bill Overnight Health Care — Biden mandate faces Dem resistance Exporting gas means higher monthly energy bills for American families MORE (W.Va.) and Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyBiden to have audience with pope, attend G20 summit Biden taps former Indiana Sen. Donnelly as ambassador to Vatican Republicans may regret restricting reproductive rights MORE (Ind.), who are undecided on Pompeo, will be pressed by GOP opponents on whether they support Schumer’s tactic.

Heitkamp, Manchin and Donnelly are among the 14 Democrats plus Independent Sen. Angus KingAngus KingExporting gas means higher monthly energy bills for American families Amazon, Facebook, other large firms would pay more under proposed minimum tax, Warren's office says Senators look to defense bill to move cybersecurity measures MORE (Maine), who caucuses with the Democrats, who voted to confirm Pompeo as CIA director.

Democrats already had leverage in the battle over Pompeo because of Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSenate rejects attempt to block Biden's Saudi arms sale Overnight Defense & National Security — Lawmakers clinch deal on defense bill White House 'strongly opposes' Senate resolution to stop Saudi arms sale MORE’s (R-Ky.) opposition to Trump’s nominee. Because Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainDole to lie in state in Capitol Rotunda Bob Dole: A great leader of the 'Greatest Generation' The bully who pulls the levers of Trump's mind never learns MORE (R-Ariz.) is also absent from the Senate as he undergoes treatment for brain cancer, that left Republicans with a maximum of 49 votes.

Heitkamp’s announcement, however, changes calculations by delivering a potential 50th vote to Pompeo.

It’s theoretically possible that Paul could back the Democratic maneuver, though that would seem unlikely given the break it would represent with his party and the White House.

On the panel, Paul is expected to vote against Pompeo along with the committee’s Democrats, preventing him from winning a favorable vote.

Every Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee has said they will vote against Pompeo except for Sen. Christopher CoonsChris Andrew CoonsBipartisan senators earmark billion to support democracies globally House passes bill to expedite financial disclosures from judges Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by ExxonMobil — Dems seek to preserve climate provisions MORE (D-Del.), who says he is “leaning against” the nominee. Coons says that Pompeo has also asked for one more chance to talk to him.

Trump has stepped up pressure on Paul in recent days to support Pompeo.

“I will say this about Rand Paul: He’s never let me down,” Trump told reporters at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida.

Trump called Paul on Wednesday and asked him to meet with Pompeo. Paul has agreed to do so but hasn’t promised the president anything else.

If Pompeo fails to win enough votes to secure a favorable recommendation to the floor, then the Foreign Relations panel will vote to send him to the floor with an unfavorable recommendation.

Democrats on the panel say if they also vote against the unfavorable recommendation to discharge, then Pompeo will be bottled up in committee and McConnell will have to offer a motion on the floor to discharge him, which is subject to a filibuster and a 60-vote threshold.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP How leaving Afghanistan cancels our post-9/11 use of force The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her  MORE (R-Tenn.) declined to comment on what would happen next if Democrats block Pompeo in committee but he believes McConnell could get around it.

“There are other ways of doing it,” he said.  

McConnell could offer a motion on the floor declaring that actions to discharge nominees who fail to receive favorable or unfavorable recommendations in committee are not subject to filibuster.

That motion would have to be backed up a simple majority vote of the entire Senate.

But Corker doesn’t think it will come to that.

“I think it will end up getting worked out,” he said.

Senate Republican Whip John CornynJohn CornynHouse approves bill to ease passage of debt limit hike McConnell faces GOP pushback on debt deal Senate leaders face pushback on tying debt fight to defense bill MORE (Texas) dismissed the possible Democratic gambit as a pipe dream.

“I think that’s wishful thinking,” he said. “They’re wishing it.”