Pompeo vote won't guarantee Democrats a win in November

Pompeo vote won't guarantee Democrats a win in November
© Getty Images

Individuals nominated to be secretary of State usually have overwhelming bipartisan support in the U.S. Senate. The job of chief diplomat is one so important that our representative to the world ideally should have the backing of both Democrats and Republicans in the initial confirmation process.

This was not the case with Donald Trump’s first pick to be secretary of State. Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonTillerson meets with House Foreign Affairs Committee Overnight Defense: Trump rails against media coverage | Calls reporting on Iran tensions 'highly inaccurate' | GOP senator blocking Trump pick for Turkey ambassador | Defense bill markup next week Trump frustrated with advisers over Iran, wants to speak to leaders in Tehran: report MORE could only amass 56 votes for his confirmation. (In contrast, the choice of George W. Bush — Condoleezza Rice — had 85 yes votes. John F. Kerry and Hillary Clinton got 94 votes for their selection by the Obama administration.)

ADVERTISEMENT

Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoFeinstein, Iranian foreign minister had dinner amid tensions: report Pentagon to present White House with plans to deploy up to 10K troops to Middle East: report Senate panel rejects requiring Congress sign off before Iran strike MORE, Trump’s latest choice to be secretary of State, is in no way enjoying bipartisan support.

 

His nomination barely got by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. One Republican was very vocal about voting “no” on Pompeo; Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulRand Paul splits with Amash on Trump impeachment The Go-Go's rock the stage at annual 'We Write the Songs' DC concert GOP presses Trump to make a deal on spending MORE (R-Ky.) at the last moment flipped and voted “yes.”

President TrumpDonald John TrumpFeinstein, Iranian foreign minister had dinner amid tensions: report The Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Harris readies a Phase 2 as she seeks to rejuvenate campaign MORE believes that Iraq was a mistake, that regime change has destabilized the region, and that we must end our involvement in Afghanistan,” Paul tweeted after being vigorously lobbied by Trump. “Having received assurances from President Trump and Director Pompeo that he agrees with the President on these important issues, I have decided to support his nomination to be our next Secretary of State.”

It seems to me that Paul’s change of heart and vote was based on the wrong criteria. A “yes” vote should be more than a purported policy agreement (past and present). Instead it should be based on whether or not the nominee has the right temperament, training and, most important, philosophy for this most sensitive position.

Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineOvernight Defense: Iran worries dominate foreign policy talk | Pentagon reportedly to send WH plans for 10K troops in Mideast | Democrats warn Trump may push through Saudi arms sale | Lawmakers blast new Pentagon policy on sharing info Iraq War looms over Trump battle with Iran Senate passes bill to undo tax increase on Gold Star military families MORE (D-Va.), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, previously voted for Pompeo’s nomination to be director of the CIA. But when it came to becoming secretary of State, he voted “no” in committee.

“This is not about policy difference. I don’t want to vote for people who are anti-diplomatic to be the nation’s chief diplomat,” Kaine said. 

Sen. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinOn The Money: GOP angst grows over Trump's trade war | Trump promises help for 'Patriot Farmers' | Markets rebound | CBO founding director Alice Rivlin dies | Senate to vote on disaster aid bill next week Senators offer bipartisan retirement savings bill Top Finance Dem offers bill to help those repaying student loans save for retirement MORE (D-Md.), who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, made the case against Pompeo in even stronger terms in a Washington Post op-ed.

“Pompeo has shown little preference for diplomacy and consistent support for militaristic interventions … I am very concerned about Pompeo’s willingness to stand up to the President and deliver healthy counterpoint … It is also worth asking how Pompeo will represent our diverse country to the world,” Cardin wrote.

To top it off, Cardin wrote this seminal perception on Pompeo. “In my view, Pompeo is not the right person to be Secretary of State for the American people. I have reached that conclusion based on my policy priorities, my belief in the importance of diplomacy and my support for American values — not politics or partisanship, as some have ascribed to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s action.” 

I believe Cardin is being sincere and honest. He is not one to take a cheap shot. In fact, he probably would have liked to vote “yes” for a presidential nominee regardless of party affiliation. This would have been in the tradition of bipartisan, unified support for this most important post.

Three Democratic senators announced in advance their support for Pompeo. Each of them has one thing in common. They are Democratic incumbents who are running for reelection in reliably red states that went overwhelmingly for Trump in 2016. 

The first Democrat to announce support for Pompeo was Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampOn The Money: Stocks sink on Trump tariff threat | GOP caught off guard by new trade turmoil | Federal deficit grew 38 percent this fiscal year | Banks avoid taking position in Trump, Dem subpoena fight Fight over Trump's new NAFTA hits key stretch Former senators launching effort to help Dems win rural votes MORE of North Dakota. Trump carried North Dakota by 35 points, a 123,036-vote margin, and the last time she ran for the Senate she won by a scant 3,000 votes.

 Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Senate panel approves Interior nominee over objections from Democrats Labor head warns of 'frightening uptick' in black lung disease among miners MORE of West Virginia also came out in favor of Pompeo. Trump won West Virginia by a whopping 42 points and a margin of 300,577 votes.

The third Democratic senator was Joe Donnelly of Indiana. Trump won his state in 2016 by 19 points and the margin was 524,160 votes.

 The full Senate vote was a 57 to 42 split, including Democrats Bill Nelson of Florida, Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Doug Jones of Alabama, and Angus KingAngus Stanley KingSenate panel approves Interior nominee over objections from Democrats Trump, Europe increasingly at odds on Iran The Hill's 12:30 Report: Dems raise stakes with talk of 'constitutional crisis' MORE of Maine, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats.

I don’t believe it is unfair to say that “political survival” very well might factor into their calculations.

The question can be rightly asked, if they were running for reelection in other states, would they hold this same position? 

Because they are so vulnerable, are they making it a point to go along with Trump so as not to further alienate those 2016 Trump voters?

Whether or not Heitkamp, Donnelly and Manchin are reelected, their “yes” vote likely will in no way determine the election results.

Independent voters in North Dakota, Indiana and West Virginia are not going to decide to vote for these incumbents based on this single confirmation vote.

Maybe Heitkamp, Donnelly and Manchin truly believe Pompeo is suited for this job. So be it, if that is true. But if they are just playing politics and casting an “insurance vote,” they will see little or no benefit. 

Voters who are neither registered Democrats or Republicans are capable of exercising their independent judgment and voting for the incumbent Democratic senator even if any one of them voted “no” on Pompeo.

In the end, politicians prefer to stay in office and continue their careers. That’s understandable. But along the way, does one sacrifice core principles and beliefs just to survive? 

Mark Plotkin is a contributor to the BBC on American politics. He previously was the political analyst for WAMU-FM, Washington’s NPR affiliate, and for WTOP-FM, Washington’s all-news radio station. He is a winner of the Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in writing.