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Democrats mull audacious play to block Pompeo

Democrats are mulling an audacious plan to bottle up President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden team wants to understand Trump effort to 'hollow out government agencies' Trump's remaking of the judicial system Overnight Defense: Trump transgender ban 'inflicts concrete harms,' study says | China objects to US admiral's Taiwan visit MORE’s nominee to head the State Department in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — even though Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoOvernight Defense: Trump transgender ban 'inflicts concrete harms,' study says | China objects to US admiral's Taiwan visit King of Jordan becomes first Arab leader to speak with President-elect Biden Central Asia is changing: the Biden administration should pay close attention 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 McConnellFeinstein to step down as top Democrat on Judiciary Committee Voters want a strong economy and leadership, Democrats should listen On The Money: Biden to nominate Yellen for Treasury secretary | 'COVID cliff' looms | Democrats face pressure to back smaller stimulus 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 HeitkampFive House Democrats who could join Biden Cabinet Biden names John Kerry as 'climate czar' in new administration OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee | Forest Service finalizes rule weakening environmental review of its projects | Biden to enlist Agriculture, Transportation agencies in climate 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 SchumerUS national security policy in the 117th Congress and a new administration Voters say Biden should make coronavirus vaccine a priority: poll New York City subway service could be slashed 40 percent, officials warn 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) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout 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 ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinVoters split on eliminating the filibuster: poll OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee | Forest Service finalizes rule weakening environmental review of its projects | Biden to enlist Agriculture, Transportation agencies in climate fight Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee MORE (W.Va.) and Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyBiden and Schumer face battles with left if Democrats win big Harris walks fine line on Barrett as election nears The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by JobsOhio - Showdown: Trump-Biden debate likely to be nasty 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 KingLeadership changes at top cyber agency raise national security concerns Top cybersecurity official ousted by Trump Republicans start turning the page on Trump era 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 PaulLoeffler isolating after possible COVID-19 infection Rick Scott tests positive for coronavirus Overnight Defense: Formal negotiations inch forward on defense bill with Confederate base name language | Senators look to block B UAE arms sales | Trump administration imposes Iran sanctions over human rights abuses MORE’s (R-Ky.) opposition to Trump’s nominee. Because Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainJuan Williams: Obama's dire warnings about right-wing media Democrats' squabbling vindicates Biden non-campaign McSally, staff asked to break up maskless photo op inside Capitol 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 CoonsDemocrats face increasing pressure to back smaller COVID-19 stimulus Biden rolls out national security team Democrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks 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 CorkerGOP lawmaker patience runs thin with Trump tactics Former GOP senator: Republicans cannot let Trump's 'reckless' post-election claims stand Cornyn: Relationships with Trump like 'women who get married and think they're going to change their spouse' 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 CornynCornyn says election outcome 'becoming increasingly clear': report Top GOP senator: Biden should be getting intel briefings GOP senator congratulates Biden, says Trump should accept results MORE (Texas) dismissed the possible Democratic gambit as a pipe dream.

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