Senators weigh support for CIA pick after McCain move

Republican senators offered deference to GOP Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainWhoopi Goldberg signs four-year deal with ABC to stay on 'The View' Collins to endorse LePage in Maine governor comeback bid Meghan McCain: Country has not 'healed' from Trump under Biden MORE (Ariz.) on Thursday but gave few signs that his opposition to CIA nominee Gina Haspel would sink her nomination. 

McCain was captured and tortured during the Vietnam War and has long been an outspoken opponent of the harsh interrogation techniques used during the George W. Bush administration. 

Haspel, a veteran of the spy agency, was involved in the interrogations program, helping prompt McCain’s opposition to her nomination.  

He became the second GOP senator to oppose Haspel, saying her “refusal to acknowledge torture's immorality is disqualifying.”

McCain remains in Arizona battling brain cancer, leaving him unable to buttonhole and lobby his colleagues against Haspel’s nomination in person. 


Facing a flurry questions from reporters, GOP senators expressed their respect for McCain but said they are moving forward with the nominee. 

“Each senator has to make his or her own decision,” said GOP Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsLooking to the past to secure America's clean energy future Collins to endorse LePage in Maine governor comeback bid McConnell privately urged GOP senators to oppose debt ceiling hike MORE (Maine), who added that McCain’s words were “powerful.” Though Collins and McCain teamed up last year to help stop an ObamaCare repeal bill, Collins said this week she would support Haspel. 

“God bless him. ... When Sen. John McCain speaks, people listen,” said Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.), before adding: “But my personal opinion is that the deputy director is eminently qualified." 

Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - House Democrats plagued by Biden agenda troubles GOP warns McConnell won't blink on debt cliff McConnell, Shelby offer government funding bill without debt ceiling MORE (R-Ala.) added: "McCain is not always right and never has been." 

McCain’s opposition to Haspel comes as her nomination is facing a perilously narrow path in the Senate. 

With Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 White House debates vaccines for air travel Senate lawmakers let frustration show with Blinken MORE (R-Ky.) opposed, Haspel needs at least one Democratic vote to win confirmation. If McCain were able to return for the vote — which is expected to take place before the Memorial Day recess — Haspel would need support from two Democrats. 

Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinOvernight Energy & Environment — League of Conservation Voters — Climate summit chief says US needs to 'show progress' on environment Poll from liberal group shows more voters in key states back .5T bill Why Democrats opposing Biden's tax plan have it wrong MORE (D-W.Va.) became the first Democrat to say he would support Haspel. He stood by that decision on Thursday, but suggested McCain’s opposition could impact others.

“If I hadn’t seen all of the facts, classified or unclassified, this would have probably been a factor to me. So I could see a lot of my colleagues, the respect we have for John McCain … we are all very sensitive to that,” Manchin said. 

Several Republican senators remain on the fence over the nomination. If McCain were able to influence any of them, it would complicate Haspel’s path to confirmation. 

Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeBiden nominates former Sen. Tom Udall as New Zealand ambassador Biden to nominate Jane Hartley as UK ambassador: report The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Voting rights will be on '22, '24 ballots MORE (R-Ariz.) said he remains undecided about Haspel but McCain’s opinion “means a lot not only to me but to others as well." 

But he also ruled out essentially casting a proxy vote for McCain, even though he shares the elder Arizona senator’s view on torture. 

“I have my own franchise but I certainly respect his voice on this. I always have. I've always shared his views, so his voice is important,” he said. 

GOP Sens. 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 (Tenn.) and Mike RoundsMike RoundsSenate advances Biden consumer bureau pick after panel logjam The 19 GOP senators who voted for the T infrastructure bill Senate passes T bipartisan infrastructure bill in major victory for Biden MORE (S.D.) said they have questions about Haspel’s role in the destruction of videotapes documenting the waterboarding of an al Qaeda suspect. 

“Based on what I know thus far I lean toward supporting her, but we have some questions just about the destruction of records,” Corker told reporters. 

Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeHillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — Officials want action on cyberattacks Senate panel advances antitrust bill that eyes Google, Facebook Trump pushes back on book claims, says he spent 'virtually no time' discussing election with Lee, Graham MORE (R-Utah), a close ally of Paul’s, also remains on the fence. 

Meanwhile, the pool of potential Democratic “yes” votes is shrinking. Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinFederal watchdog calls on Congress, Energy Dept. to overhaul nuclear waste storage process Senate advances Biden consumer bureau pick after panel logjam Republicans caught in California's recall trap MORE (D-Calif.), a former Intelligence Committee chairwoman, announced she would vote against Haspel. 

McCain’s opposition could give cover to red and purple state Democrats to ultimately oppose the CIA nominee. Still hunting for votes, Haspel met Thursday with Democratic Sens. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampWashington's oldest contact sport: Lobbyists scrum to dilute or kill Democrats' tax bill Progressives prepare to launch counterattack in tax fight Business groups aim to divide Democrats on .5T spending bill MORE (N.D.), Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KainePanic begins to creep into Democratic talks on Biden agenda Congress facing shutdown, debt crisis with no plan B Democrats confront 'Rubik's cube on steroids' MORE (Va.) and Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyRepublicans may regret restricting reproductive rights Sanders traveling to Iowa, Indiana to pitch Biden's spending package Supreme Court battle could wreak havoc with Biden's 2020 agenda MORE (Ind.), who are up for reelection this year.

“I think people around here would be lying to you if they said that it didn't weigh on them,” Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillRepublicans may regret restricting reproductive rights Sunday shows preview: States deal with fallout of Ida; Texas abortion law takes effect Giuliani to stump for Greitens in Missouri MORE (D-Mo.) added. “I can’t imagine anybody who has done more work on this subject than John McCain.”