Senators weigh support for CIA pick after McCain move

Republican senators offered deference to GOP Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainJeffries blasts Trump for attack on Thunberg at impeachment hearing Live coverage: House panel debates articles of impeachment Budowsky: Would John McCain back impeachment? 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 CollinsSenate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial McConnell: I doubt any GOP senator will vote to impeach Trump Democrats spend big to put Senate in play 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 ShelbyLawmakers strike spending deal to avert shutdown McConnell accuses Democrats of stonewalling funding talks with wall demands  On The Money: Pelosi, Trump tout deal on new NAFTA | McConnell says no trade vote until impeachment trial wraps up | Lawmakers push spending deadline to Thursday 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 PaulPentagon to take bigger role in vetting foreign students after Pensacola shooting Overnight Defense: House passes compromise defense bill | Turkey sanctions advance in Senate over Trump objections | Top general says military won't be 'raping, burning and pillaging' after Trump pardons Rand Paul: 'We need to re-examine' US-Saudi relationship after Florida shooting 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 ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSenate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial McConnell: I doubt any GOP senator will vote to impeach Trump Manchin warns he'll slow-walk government funding bill until he gets deal on miners legislation 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 FlakeLindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight Kelly, McSally virtually tied in Arizona Senate race: poll The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Nareit — White House cheers Republicans for storming impeachment hearing 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 CorkerRNC says ex-Trump ambassador nominee's efforts 'to link future contributions to an official action' were 'inappropriate' Lindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Nareit — White House cheers Republicans for storming impeachment hearing MORE (Tenn.) and Mike RoundsMarion (Mike) Michael RoundsSenate confirms eight Trump court picks in three days Senate approves stopgap bill to prevent shutdown Hillicon Valley: Facebook launches 'News Tab' | Senate passes bill to take on 'deepfakes' | Schumer outlines vision for electric cars 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 LeeSenators zero in on shadowy court at center of IG report The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Five takeaways on Horowitz's testimony on Capitol Hill 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 FeinsteinSanders endorses Young Turks founder Cenk Uygur for Katie Hill's former House seat Houston police chief stands by criticism of McConnell, Cruz, Cornyn: 'This is not political' Senate confirms Trump's 50th circuit judge, despite 'not qualified' rating 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 HeitkampPro-trade group launches media buy as Trump and Democrats near deal on new NAFTA The Hill's Morning Report — Biden steadies in third debate as top tier remains the same Trump wins 60 percent approval in rural areas of key states MORE (N.D.), Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineOvernight Health Care — Presented by That's Medicaid — House passes sweeping Pelosi bill to lower drug prices | Senate confirms Trump FDA pick | Trump officials approve Medicaid work requirements in South Carolina Senate confirms Trump's nominee to lead FDA Democrats worried by Jeremy Corbyn's UK rise amid anti-Semitism MORE (Va.) and Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyGinsburg health scare raises prospect of election year Supreme Court battle Watchdog accuses pro-Kavanaugh group of sending illegal robotexts in 2018 Lobbying world 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 McCaskillGinsburg health scare raises prospect of election year Supreme Court battle MSNBC's McCaskill: Trump used 'his fat thumbs' to try to intimidate Yovanovitch GOP senator rips into Pelosi at Trump rally: 'It must suck to be that dumb' MORE (D-Mo.) added. “I can’t imagine anybody who has done more work on this subject than John McCain.”