Senate must save itself by confirming Mike Pompeo

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The Senate is at risk of losing its role as the deliberator of American foreign policy. By opposing the nomination of the eminently qualified Mike Pompeo to be secretary of State, Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will greatly harm their ability to play a role in shaping and improving the policies of the Trump administration. They should reconsider their opposition before it is too late.

In recent years, one of the bright spots in the legislative branch has been the bipartisan spirit that infuses the work of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Under the leadership of both Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and previous Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the committee has served as a check on both the Obama and Trump administrations.

{mosads}Under President Obama, the committee wrote and passed into law the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, which facilitated congressional oversight of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which is the agreement between Iran, the United States and five other nations regarding Iran’s illegal nuclear weapons program. During the first year of the Trump administration, the committee has passed tough sanctions on Iran, Russia and North Korea, and also monitored and checked the administration’s plan to redesign the State Department and foreign assistance agencies.

Under the leadership of Chairman Menendez in 2013, the committee unanimously approved the nomination of John Kerry to be President Obama’s Secretary of State. Although Republican senators on the committee disagreed with Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) on nearly all domestic policy issues, and indeed, many foreign policy issues, they strongly believed that he was qualified to handle the responsibilities of the job and that President Obama should have a secretary of State of his choosing, assuming that person is qualified and of good character.

They also knew how critical it was for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the jurisdiction of which includes international treaties and declarations of war, to have a relationship of trust and goodwill with the president and his chief diplomat, particularly when there were policy disagreements. Further, although we are loathe in these times to acknowledge the positive sensibilities and talents of members of Congress, our Founding Fathers envisioned a specific role for the Senate in foreign relations.

In Federalist Paper 64, John Jay wrote that the constitutional role of the Senate provides for integrity and deliberation: “Thus we see that the Constitution provides that our negotiations for treaties shall have every advantage which can be derived from talents, information, integrity and deliberate investigations, on the one hand, and from secrecy and despatch on the other.”

In other words, the ingenious design of the Constitution ought to override any partisan or policy differences. The minority party in 2013 understood this, and voted accordingly, supporting nomination of the majority party’s top diplomat, despite their many disagreements with him, because it was good for the country. Now, things have changed. Several Democrats on the committee have announced their intention to oppose the nomination of Pompeo to be President Trump’s secretary of State. They are opposed to his nomination not because he isn’t qualified, but because they disagree with him on policy issues, in many cases, domestic policy issues.

Let us note here that Pompeo is an excellent candidate for the job. He was first in his class at West Point, served in uniform during the Cold War, went to Harvard Law School, was a leader in business, and served as a congressman from Kansas. During his time as CIA director, both Democrats and Republicans have praised his job performance. He has the trust of the president, having been sent to North Korea a few days ago for the most difficult of diplomatic challenges.

If all the Democrats on the committee oppose his nomination, as may be the case, combined with the opposition of libertarian Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Pompeo will receive a negative recommendation. That won’t stop his confirmation because enough Democrats will vote for him on the floor that he will be our next secretary of State. But the consequence of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee reporting his nomination negatively, on basically a party-line vote over domestic policy disagreements, will severely damage the trust between the Cabinet and the Senate in the conduct of diplomacy.

The loser will be the Senate, with its prerogatives and responsibilities, along with its ability to be a check on the possible excesses of this administration. For this reason, and because Pompeo is spectacularly qualified, members of the minority party on the committee should reconsider their vote and support him. It is in their own interests — and the country’s interest — to do so.

Lester Munson served as staff director of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee under Republican Chairman Bob Corker from 2013 to 2015.

Tags Bob Corker Congress Democrats Donald Trump Foreign policy John Kerry Mike Pompeo Rand Paul Republicans Robert Menendez State Department White House

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