Pompeo faces pivotal vote

Secretary of State nominee Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoUS-Iran tensions rise: Five things to know about oil tanker attack US-Iran tensions rise: Five things to know about oil tanker attack The US must do its part in closing the largest outdoor prison in the world 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 TrumpTrump defends Stephanopolous interview Trump defends Stephanopolous interview Buttigieg on offers of foreign intel: 'Just call the FBI' 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 BookerThe generational divide of Joe Biden and the Democratic Party Booker, O'Rourke, Buttigieg rally with striking McDonald's workers in South Carolina Booker, O'Rourke, Buttigieg rally with striking McDonald's workers in South Carolina 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 ClintonHouse Intel Republican: 'Foolish' not to take info on opponent from foreign ally House Intel Republican: 'Foolish' not to take info on opponent from foreign ally It's about the delegates, stupid MORE and John KerryJohn Forbes KerryOcasio-Cortez and Cruz's dialogue shows common ground isn't just for moderates 'Landslide' for Biden? A look at 40 years of inaccurate presidential polls Trump campaign considering making a play for blue state Oregon: report 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 WarrenJulián Castro defends going on Fox: I'm focused on 'the people out there watching' Julián Castro defends going on Fox: I'm focused on 'the people out there watching' O'Rourke unveils plan to support women, minority-owned businesses MORE (D-Mass.) voted for Ben CarsonBenjamin (Ben) Solomon CarsonMoulton confirms he'll miss first Democratic debate Moulton confirms he'll miss first Democratic debate Lawmakers battle over HUD protections for homeless transgender people 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 SchumerElection security bills face GOP buzzsaw Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw US women's soccer team reignites equal pay push 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 DurbinElection security bills face GOP buzzsaw Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw The Hill's Morning Report - Trump and House Democrats resume battle 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 (Bob) Swan MuellerKamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Kamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Dem committees win new powers to investigate Trump 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 PaulOvernight Defense: Pompeo blames Iran for oil tanker attacks | House panel approves 3B defense bill | Trump shares designs for red, white and blue Air Force One Senate rejects effort to block Trump's Qatar, Bahrain arms sales Senate rejects effort to block Trump's Qatar, Bahrain arms sales 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 HeitkampLobbying World Pro-trade group targets Democratic leadership in push for new NAFTA On The Money: Stocks sink on Trump tariff threat | GOP caught off guard by new trade turmoil | Federal deficit grew 38 percent this fiscal year | Banks avoid taking position in Trump, Dem subpoena fight 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) ManchinThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by MAPRx — Trump takes heat for remarks on help from foreign governments The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by MAPRx — Trump takes heat for remarks on help from foreign governments The Hill's Morning Report - Trump and House Democrats resume battle MORE (W.Va.), Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyConservatives spark threat of bloody GOP primaries Anti-corruption group hits Congress for ignoring K Street, Capitol Hill 'revolving door' K Street giants scoop up coveted ex-lawmakers MORE (Ind.), Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillConservatives spark threat of bloody GOP primaries Congress needs to work to combat the poverty, abuse and neglect issues that children face Lobbying world MORE (Mo.) and Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterManchin eyes Senate exit Manchin eyes Senate exit Democrats hope some presidential candidates drop out — and run for Senate  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 KingOn The Money: Economy adds 75K jobs in May | GOP senator warns tariffs will wipe out tax cuts | Trump says 'good chance' of deal with Mexico On The Money: Economy adds 75K jobs in May | GOP senator warns tariffs will wipe out tax cuts | Trump says 'good chance' of deal with Mexico Trump administration appeals ruling that blocked offshore Arctic drilling 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 CaseyThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump, Biden go toe-to-toe in Iowa The Hill's Morning Report - Trump, Biden go toe-to-toe in Iowa Overnight Health Care: Biden infuriates abortion-rights groups with stance on Hyde Amendment | Trump tightens restrictions on fetal tissue research | Democrats plan event to scrutinize Trump's mental health 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 SandersBernie SandersButtigieg on Biden's Iraq War vote: 'that vote was a mistake' Buttigieg on Biden's Iraq War vote: 'that vote was a mistake' The generational divide of Joe Biden and the Democratic Party 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.