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Pompeo vote won't guarantee Democrats a win in November

Pompeo vote won't guarantee Democrats a win in November
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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 TillersonBiden looks to career officials to restore trust, morale in government agencies Biden's State Department picks are a diplomatic slam dunk President Trump: To know him is to 'No' him 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.)

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Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoBiden looks to career officials to restore trust, morale in government agencies Biden faces challenges, opportunities in Middle East O'Brien on 2024 talk: 'There's all kinds of speculation out there' 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 PaulCongress set for chaotic year-end sprint McConnell halts in-person Republican lunches amid COVID-19 surge Biden's Cabinet a battleground for future GOP White House hopefuls MORE (R-Ky.) at the last moment flipped and voted “yes.”

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump rages against '60 Minutes' for interview with Krebs Cornyn spox: Neera Tanden has 'no chance' of being confirmed as Biden's OMB pick Pa. lawmaker was informed of positive coronavirus test while meeting with Trump: report 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 KaineCongress set for chaotic year-end sprint Democrats face increasing pressure to back smaller COVID-19 stimulus Rick Scott tests positive for coronavirus 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 CardinDemocratic senators urge Facebook to take action on anti-Muslim bigotry On The Money: Biden, Democratic leaders push for lame-duck coronavirus deal | Business groups shudder at Sanders as Labor secretary | Congress could pass retirement bill as soon as this year Top Democrat: Congress could pass retirement bill as soon as this year 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 HeitkampMajor unions back Fudge for Agriculture secretary Five House Democrats who could join Biden Cabinet Biden names John Kerry as 'climate czar' in new administration 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) ManchinMajor unions back Fudge for Agriculture secretary Voters split on eliminating the filibuster: poll OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee | Forest Service finalizes rule weakening environmental review of its projects | Biden to enlist Agriculture, Transportation agencies in climate fight 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 KingLeadership changes at top cyber agency raise national security concerns Top cybersecurity official ousted by Trump Republicans start turning the page on Trump era 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.