Senators weigh support for CIA pick after McCain move

Republican senators offered deference to GOP Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainJuan Williams: Biden's promises on women are a big deal Ernst calls for public presidential campaign funds to go to masks, protective equipment President Trump is right — Now's the time for 'all hands on deck' 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. 

ADVERTISEMENT

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 CollinsCampaigns pivot toward health awareness as races sidelined by coronavirus Senate eyes quick exit after vote on coronavirus stimulus package The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Airbnb - Trump, Dems close in on deal 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 ShelbyCoronavirus bill includes more than billion in SNAP funding White House billion emergency request balloons to 2 billion in Senate coronavirus stimulus talks Five sticking points to a T coronavirus deal 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 PaulCoronavirus in Congress: Lawmakers who have tested positive Pennsylvania congressman tests positive for coronavirus South Carolina congressman tests positive for coronavirus 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) ManchinWhite House, Senate reach deal on trillion stimulus package Some Democrats growing antsy as Senate talks drag on Senate fails to advance coronavirus stimulus bill for second time in two days 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 FlakeMcSally campaign to suspend TV ads, canvassing amid pandemic Coronavirus isn't the only reason Congress should spend less time in DC Trump Jr. says he inherited 'Tourette's of the thumbs' from his father 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 CorkerMcConnell, Romney vie for influence over Trump's trial RNC says ex-Trump ambassador nominee's efforts 'to link future contributions to an official action' were 'inappropriate' Lindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight MORE (Tenn.) and Mike RoundsMarion (Mike) Michael RoundsSenate GOP expects vote on third coronavirus package next week Overnight Defense: Pentagon policy chief resigns at Trump's request | Trump wishes official 'well in his future endeavors' | Armed Services chair warns against Africa drawdown after trip GOP chairman after Africa trip: US military drawdown would have 'real and lasting negative consequences' 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 LeeTrump on Romney's negative coronavirus test: 'I am so happy I can barely speak' Romney says he tested negative for coronavirus, will remain in quarantine Paul defends actions before coronavirus diagnosis, calls for more testing 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 FeinsteinLobbying frenzy connected to stimulus sparks backlash House bill would ban stock trading by members of Congress Loeffler under fire for stock trades amid coronavirus outbreak 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 Heitkamp70 former senators propose bipartisan caucus for incumbents Susan Collins set to play pivotal role in impeachment drama Pro-trade group launches media buy as Trump and Democrats near deal on new NAFTA MORE (N.D.), Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineSenate on cusp of coronavirus stimulus deal after agreements in key areas Some Democrats growing antsy as Senate talks drag on Who should be the Democratic vice presidential candidate? MORE (Va.) and Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyEx-Sen. Joe Donnelly endorses Biden Lobbying world 70 former senators propose bipartisan caucus for incumbents 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 McCaskillGOP lukewarm on talk of airline bailout Claire McCaskill: Ron Johnson is an 'embarrassing tool' To winnow primary field, Obama and other Democrats must speak out  MORE (D-Mo.) added. “I can’t imagine anybody who has done more work on this subject than John McCain.”