Greg Nash

President Trump’s nominee for secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, appears to be on a glide path to confirmation after a last-minute reversal Monday from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).

Paul’s surprise support helped push Pompeo over the top in an 11-9-1 Senate Foreign Relations Committee vote.

{mosads}All 11 of the Republicans on the committee voted for Pompeo, while nine Democrats voted against him. Sen. Christopher  Coons (D-Del.) voted present after opposing Pompeo in an initial vote. Under Senate rules, Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), who was voting “yes” by proxy as he attended a funeral, couldn’t be used to clinch a majority for Pompeo, so the committee would have been formally tied at 10-10 unless a Democrat agreed to vote present. 

The outcome was dramatically different from what lawmakers, staffers and pundits had expected earlier in the day.

Pompeo, who is now Trump’s CIA director, was widely expected to become the first secretary of State nominee since at least 1925 to fail to win a favorable recommendation from the panel. 

Paul had vowed for weeks to oppose Pompeo, citing his support for the Iraq War and his views on so-called enhanced interrogation techniques.

“I’m perplexed by the nomination of people who love the Iraq War so much that they would advocate for a war with Iran next. I think it goes against most of the things President Trump campaigned on,” Paul said. 

But Paul had been under intense pressure from Trump and White House officials to change course. In a statement about Pompeo just minutes before the vote, Paul mentioned fielding several calls from the president.

“After calling continuously for weeks for Director Pompeo to support President Trump’s belief that the Iraq war was a mistake, and that it is time to leave Afghanistan, today I received confirmation that Director Pompeo agrees with President Trump,” Paul said in a statement.

Trump gave Paul a shoutout last week, calling him a “very special guy” and predicting that he would come around. 

“I will say this about Rand Paul: He’s never let me down. … And I don’t think he’ll let us down again. So let’s see what happens,” Trump said.

Republicans had indicated they thought Paul was a lost cause. The libertarian-minded senator frequently breaks with his party on foreign policy issues, and he angered his colleagues earlier this year by forcing a brief government shutdown.

“He’s a friend of mine, but I’ll let the president deal with that,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters after Trump’s comment about Paul.

When a reporter noted on Monday that Paul’s stance caused difficulty for Republicans “at times,” Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), the No. 2 Senate Republican, fired back: “At times? I would strike the ‘at times.’ I wish them luck.”

With the committee vote behind them, GOP leadership is expected to bring Pompeo’s nomination up for a vote on the Senate floor before the end of the week.

“It’s hard to imagine a better nominee for this mission at this moment than Mike Pompeo. I look forward to upholding the tradition of this body and voting to confirm him this week,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said.

Pompeo has a lock on the simple majority he needs to be confirmed. So far, three Democrats — Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Joe Donnelly (Ind.) — have said they will support Pompeo’s nomination. Assuming every Republican senator votes “yes,” Pompeo is on track to get at least 53 votes.

All three of the Democrats backing Pompeo are up for reelection in red-leaning states that Trump won handily in 2016. 

“After meeting with Mike Pompeo, discussing his foreign policy perspectives, & considering his distinguished time as CIA Director & his exemplary career in public service, I will vote to confirm Mike Pompeo to be our next Secretary of State,” Manchin said in a tweet.

Donnelly added in a statement that Pompeo “is capable of advancing U.S. interests and leading the State Department.”

Despite the jolt of momentum on Monday, Pompeo 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 of State, Rex Tillerson, who was confirmed 56-43 last year.

Yet Monday’s outcome was also a setback for liberal Democrats who had pushed to keep Pompeo’s nomination in limbo as a way to force concessions from Republicans.

Liberals wanted to force McConnell to try to discharge Pompeo’s nomination from the committee. The unusual move would have required 60 votes and given Democrats an opening to try block Pompeo — the first time they would have been able to scuttle a Trump nominee on the Senate floor.

But that move appeared to fail to gain traction after Democratic senators began coming out in support of Pompeo; Heitkamp was the first on Thursday, followed by Manchin and Donnelly on Monday.

Of the 15 members of the Senate minority who supported Pompeo’s nomination for CIA director, four have yet to say how they’ll vote: Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Angus King (I-Maine).

Several red and purple state senators, such as Democratic Sens. Doug Jones (Ala.) and Bob Casey Jr. (Pa.), also haven’t announced their positions. 

Democrats worry that Pompeo will enable other hawks on Trump’s national security team — namely national security adviser John Bolton — while working to unravel the Iran nuclear deal.

But Republicans and the White House had launched an eleventh hour charm offensive to try to win over more support.

“If red-state Democrats refuse to stand up to their liberal colleagues on national security, it only proves to voters they’re unfit to continue serving in office,” said Katie Martin, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called the Democrats’ tactics “absolutely outrageous.”

“A majority of Democrats continue their pointless obstruction to score cheap political points with their base as a willful attempt to undermine American diplomacy,” she said.

Tags Angus King Bob Casey Bob Corker Charles Schumer Claire McCaskill Donald Trump Heidi Heitkamp Joe Donnelly Joe Manchin John Cornyn Johnny Isakson Mark Warner Mike Pompeo Mitch McConnell Rand Paul Rex Tillerson

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