Senators weigh support for CIA pick after McCain move

Republican senators offered deference to GOP Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainSenate GOP eyes probes into 2016 issues 'swept under the rug' Gallego won't seek Ariz. Senate seat, clearing Dem path for Kelly Khizr Khan blasts Trump's McCain attacks: 'How dare this Russian-tainted president disrespects our hero' 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 CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition - Dems look for traction following Barr-Mueller findings Senate rejection of Green New Deal won't slow Americans' desire for climate action Senate GOP poised to go 'nuclear' on Trump picks 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 ShelbyThis week: Congress set for next stage of Mueller probe fight Five takeaways from Trump's budget Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Trump unveils 2020 budget | Calls for cuts to NIH | Proposes user fees on e-cigs | Azar heads to Capitol to defend blueprint | Key drug price bill gets hearing this week 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 PaulSenate GOP eyes probes into 2016 issues 'swept under the rug' Hillicon Valley: Mueller delivers report, ending investigation | FEMA exposed info of 2.3M disaster survivors | Facebook asks judge to toss DC privacy lawsuit | Trump picks his first CTO | FCC settles lawsuit over net neutrality records Transparency advocate says government agencies face 'use it or lose it' spending 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) ManchinFCC claims on broadband access under scrutiny Senate gears up for Green New Deal vote Overnight Energy: Green New Deal vote set to test Dem unity | Renewables on track to phase out coal, study finds | EPA chief reportedly recuses himself from mine review 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 FlakeTrump's attacks on McCain exacerbate tensions with Senate GOP Schumer to introduce bill naming Senate office building after McCain amid Trump uproar Trump keeps tight grip on GOP 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 CorkerTrump keeps tight grip on GOP Brexit and exit: A transatlantic comparison Sasse’s jabs at Trump spark talk of primary challenger MORE (Tenn.) and Mike RoundsMarion (Mike) Michael RoundsGOP moves to rein in president's emergency powers Trump's emergency declaration looms over Pentagon funding fight Overnight Defense: Pentagon asked to house up to 5,000 migrant children | Judge lifts last injunction against transgender ban | Senators voice anger over problems with military housing | General warns ISIS waiting to resurge 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 LeeSenate GOP proposes constitutional amendment to keep Supreme Court at 9 seats Stop asking parents to sacrifice Social Security benefits for paid family leave The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump hits media over New Zealand coverage 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 FeinsteinThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition - Dems look for traction following Barr-Mueller findings Senate GOP eyes probes into 2016 issues 'swept under the rug' Top Senate Judiciary Dem asks Barr to hand over full Mueller report by April 1 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 HeitkampRed dresses displayed around American Indian museum to memorialize missing, murdered native women Lobbying World Lobbying World MORE (N.D.), Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineWhy do so many Democrats embrace hate speech? Dem senator wants Trump to extend immigration protections to Venezuelans Pentagon sends Congress list of projects that could lose funds to Trump's emergency declaration MORE (Va.) and Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyLobbying World Lobbying World Overnight Energy: Trump taps ex-oil lobbyist Bernhardt to lead Interior | Bernhardt slams Obama officials for agency's ethics issues | Head of major green group steps down 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 McCaskillLobbying world Dem candidate has Hawley served subpoena at CPAC Annual scorecard ranks GOP environmental efforts far below Dems in 2018 MORE (D-Mo.) added. “I can’t imagine anybody who has done more work on this subject than John McCain.”