Pompeo faces pivotal vote

Secretary of State nominee Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoOvernight Defense: Air Force outlines plan for biggest force since end of Cold War | Trump admin slashes refugee cap | Mattis accuses Russia of meddling in Macedonia's NATO bid Hillicon Valley: Elon Musk sued by diver from Thai cave rescue | Researchers find new malware family | FEMA delays new presidential alert test Trump administration to cut refugee admissions to 30K for 2019 MORE is facing a pivotal vote on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Monday that will show to what extremes Democrats are willing to go to fight President TrumpDonald John TrumpOver 100 lawmakers consistently voted against chemical safeguards: study CNN's Anderson Cooper unloads on Trump Jr. for spreading 'idiotic' conspiracy theories about him Cohn: Jamie Dimon would be 'phenomenal' president MORE.

Democrats are mulling a bold and unusual strategy to bottle Pompeo’s nomination up in committee, but the gambit doesn't yet have full buy-in from the Democratic caucus. Some centrists facing tough reelection races are worried about being labeled obstructionists. 

Yet Democratic lawmakers are under intense pressure from the party’s liberal base to oppose Trump at every turn, and senators jockeying for the 2020 presidential nomination are setting the tone when it comes to defying the president.

Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerSenate Dems sue Archives to try to force release of Kavanaugh documents Judd Gregg: The collapse of the Senate Dems engage in last-ditch effort to block Kavanaugh MORE (D-N.J.), a potential White House contender, has led the opposition, grilling Pompeo earlier this month about his views on Muslim Americans and same-sex marriage.

Pompeo didn’t help himself with Democrats by stating at his confirmation hearing that he doesn’t think it appropriate for same-sex couples to marry.

Many Democrats view Pompeo as too extreme in his political views to serve as the nation’s top diplomat; they also say he hasn’t demonstrated enough independence from the president.

As Trump’s CIA director, Pompeo has called for a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities and expressed hope that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un can be forced from power.

He has also in the past questioned whether the climate is really warming, though more recently he said “there’s a warming taking place” and human activity is contributing to it.

“It’s one of the more important things on progressives’ minds right now,” said Neil Sroka, communications director of Democracy for America, a liberal advocacy group. “There’s a broad sense that this is a nomination fight that Democrats need to stand up and be clear in their opposition to.”

He said the stakes are higher after Trump tapped John Bolton, a defense hawk, to serve as his national security adviser. 

After Pompeo, there are two more high-stakes confirmation fights looming in the Senate — over Gina Haspel, Trump’s pick to head the CIA, and Ronny Jackson, his nominee to head the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The White House is accusing Democrats of playing politics with Trump’s nominees, noting that Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump to declassify controversial text messages, documents related to Russia probe Hypocrisy in Kavanaugh case enough to set off alarms in DC Clinton: Hard to ignore 'racial subtext of virtually everything Trump says' MORE and John KerryJohn Forbes KerryPompeo doubles down on criticism of Kerry: The Iran deal failed, 'let it go' John Kerry: Trump has ‘the insecurity of a teenage girl’ Kerry: Trump should be worried about Manafort talking to Mueller, not me talking to Iranians MORE, President Obama’s picks to head the State Department, were both confirmed with 94 votes.

“What does history tell us? Members of both parties have long believed that U.S. national security is too important to play politics with Secretary of State nominees,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted on Thursday. 

But Democrats, especially those with presidential aspirations, know that voting for Trump’s nominees could bring a backlash from the base, such as it did last year when Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenAnother recession could hit US in 2019, says credit union association chief Warren says vote should be delayed, asks what Kavanaugh is hiding Kavanaugh hires attorney amid sexual assault allegations: report MORE (D-Mass.) voted for Ben CarsonBenjamin (Ben) Solomon CarsonKavanaugh an excellent fit to continue the Supreme Court's honored tradition GOP strategist: Republican candidates distancing themselves from Trump could backfire in midterms Ethics watchdog requests probe into Trump officials traveling to campaign events MORE to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development. 

More recently, Warren criticized Carson pointedly at a hearing for not doing more to fight housing discrimination.

Steve Jarding, a Democratic strategist, called Pompeo “scary.”

“Normally for a high-profile position like this you give the president his due, but I don’t think that’s what this is about,” he said. “He’s a little frightening in some of his rhetoric, he is totally unproven, he doesn’t bring to the table even a modicum of preparedness for this.”

“You want a secretary of State who can look the president in the eye and say, ‘Mr. President, in my best judgment you can’t do this,’” he added. 

Caught in the middle are Democrats running for reelection in states that Trump won by big margins.

Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerDemocrats should end their hypocrisy when it comes to Kavanaugh and the judiciary Celebrities back both Cuomo and Nixon as New Yorkers head to primary vote Dems launch million digital ad buy in top Senate races MORE (N.Y.) has urged these centrists to hold off on declaring their support for Pompeo in hopes that he might be able to win a concession from McConnell if Democrats are able to bottle him up in the Foreign Relations Committee. 

“All that Chuck has said, and what he says repeatedly is, keep your powder dry, don’t commit early one way or the other,” said Senate Democratic Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinTop Senate Dem: Public hearing is ‘only way to go’ for Kavanaugh accuser Durbin calls for delay in Kavanaugh vote Dems engage in last-ditch effort to block Kavanaugh MORE (Ill.).

Durbin said the Democratic leadership, however, is not actively whipping centrists to oppose Pompeo.  

“Certainly Schumer knows there are red-state Democrats who have to do this,” said Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University, about confirming Pompeo. “You can’t attack on all fronts.”

Baker said that Pompeo isn’t a controversial enough figure for centrists to easily justify derailing his nomination. 

Even Democrats who are not facing tough reelection races are leery about setting a new standard by trying to block Pompeo in committee.

The Foreign Relations panel has not reported a secretary of State nominee unfavorably since votes started being recorded in the early 1900s, according to one Democratic aide.  

Some Democrats, however, hope they can win a concession from McConnell, such as a vote on a "sense of the Senate" resolution that special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE should not be fired in exchange for letting Pompeo receive an up-or-down vote on the floor.

If Democrats on the Foreign Relations panel vote in unison against reporting Pompeo out of the committee and have the support of conservative Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSome employees' personal data revealed in State Department email breach: report The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump says Dems inflated Puerto Rico death toll | House cancels Friday votes | Florence starts to hit coast The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by Better Medicare Alliance — Facing major hurricane, Trump is tested MORE (R-Ky.), who has stated his opposition to Pompeo, they could set up a 60-vote hurdle for moving Pompeo's nomination to the Senate floor.  

Republicans, however, say that McConnell could change Senate procedure to confirm Pompeo by using another controversial tactic known as the "nuclear option," which requires a simple majority vote to set a new precedent.  

The committee is scheduled to vote at 5 p.m. on Monday, although a Democratic aide speculated there’s a chance that it might be postponed, given the opposition facing the nominee. 

Schumer lost some leverage on Thursday when Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampKavanaugh becomes September surprise for midterm candidates Kavanaugh, accuser to testify publicly on Monday Kavanaugh furor intensifies as calls for new testimony grow MORE (D-N.D.), one of his members facing a tough reelection race, said she would vote for Pompeo.

“The role of the State Department is to support our diplomatic missions to avoid conflict, support American interests, and stand up for our allies, and having a leadership team in place is essential to carrying out those jobs,” she said in a statement.

Other Democrats up for reelection in states won by Trump, including Sens. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinKavanaugh becomes September surprise for midterm candidates Kavanaugh, accuser to testify publicly on Monday Kavanaugh furor intensifies as calls for new testimony grow MORE (W.Va.), Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyKavanaugh becomes September surprise for midterm candidates Kavanaugh, accuser to testify publicly on Monday Kavanaugh furor intensifies as calls for new testimony grow MORE (Ind.), Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillDems gain momentum 50 days before midterms CBS Poll: Missouri, Montana Senate races in dead heats Dems play waiting game with Collins and Murkowski MORE (Mo.) and Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterCBS Poll: Missouri, Montana Senate races in dead heats Dems play waiting game with Collins and Murkowski Watchdog groups to file complaint against Montana candidate alleging coordination with NRA MORE (Mont.), were undecided on Pompeo as of Friday. 

Durbin says the number of Senate Democrats who are still willing to confirm Pompeo has shrunk to about seven — down from the 14 who voted to confirm him as CIA director last year. 

Sen. Angus KingAngus Stanley KingRestoring our national parks would be a bipartisan win for Congress Restore our parks Renaming Senate office building after McCain sparks GOP backlash MORE (Maine), an Independent who voted to confirm Pompeo to head the CIA, said he’s now “firmly undecided” about approving his nomination to the State Department. 

Sen. Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyObama to hit campaign trail in Pa. for gubernatorial, Senate candidates Trump is wrong, Dems are fighting to save Medicare and Social Security Five biggest surprises in midterm fight MORE Jr. (R-Pa.), who is running for reelection in a state Trump won narrowly, says he’s also undecided. 

The Republican National Committee (RNC) is already attacking Democrats who might flip their vote on Pompeo, linking them to Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersProtecting democracy requires action from all of us Kavanaugh hires attorney amid sexual assault allegations: report Amazon probes allegations of employees leaking data for bribes: report MORE (I-Vt.) and other liberals.

“They will pay a heavy price trying to explain to constituents why they chose to side with the resistance wing of the party over the nomination of a highly qualified individual in the nation’s top diplomatic post,” said an RNC official.