Trump checkmates Democrats in sending Pompeo to North Korea

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Are Democrats willing to take the blame for North Korea deploying nuclear weapons that could hit the United States? That’s the question smart Democrats should be asking this week, after the stunning revelation that the White House sent CIA director and secretary of State designee Mike Pompeo to North Korea over Easter weekend to discuss terms for a summit between Kim Jong Un and President Trump.

Consider that Pompeo’s nomination will live or die on the votes cast by Senate Democrats. Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul has already declared his opposition to Pompeo, while Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain has been missing in action for months as the result of his ongoing medical treatment.

{mosads}With Senate Republicans holding only a 51-49 majority, the loss of those two GOP votes to confirm means that Pompeo’s fate rests in the hands of Senate Democrats. If all 49 Senate Democrats vote against him, his nomination will die on the Senate floor. If at least one of them votes to confirm Pompeo, he will be the next secretary of State.

Trump’s decision to secretly send Pompeo to North Korea checkmates Senate Democrats. As far as the North Koreans are concerned, Pompeo is now Trump’s man. Were the Senate to deny him confirmation now because not a single Senate Democrat votes to confirm him would send an unmistakable and dangerous signal to Pyongyang that Washington is weak and doesn’t have its act together.

That’s not the kind of signal you want to send to the unstable leader of an unstable regime that is just steps away from having its hands on nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them to the continental United States. It’s quite possible that were Pompeo’s confirmation be defeated, the discussions with Pyongyang would collapse, leaving no way forward on negotiations to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.

Did Trump decide to send Pompeo to North Korea for precisely this purpose, to lock in Pompeo as a crucial voice in sensitive international negotiations and, consequently, tie the hands of Senate Democrats? Maybe. Maybe not. More likely, Trump sent Pompeo to North Korea because Trump trusts Pompeo to represent him and U.S. interests properly. That’s exactly why Trump chose to nominate Pompeo to take over the State Department in the first place.

It was no secret in Washington that Trump and former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson didn’t see eye to eye. Unfortunately, Washington was not the only capital where that was not a secret. In Moscow, Beijing, London and more, the Trump-Tillerson friction was well known. That made it difficult for Tillerson to do his job properly because if foreign leaders know the secretary of State doesn’t have the American president’s ear, they’re not likely to invest much in developing their relationship with him.

Frankly, the cause of the Trump-Tillerson friction makes no difference. All that matters is that it was there, and everyone knew about it. By sending Pompeo to North Korea to negotiate on his behalf, Trump has sent exactly the opposite message about Pompeo to the world. Pompeo is the president’s guy, the man he sent to negotiate with the Hermit Kingdom. Don’t mess with him, unless you’re willing to mess with Trump.

Fifteen Senate Democrats voted to confirm Pompeo to his current job as CIA director. Clearly, they thought he had the temperament, character, experience and smarts to do that job. Some, clearly under pressure from their left-wing bases, have backed off those votes, using weasel words to explain why they are now planning to flip flop and cast votes against his confirmation as secretary of State. That was before the news of Pompeo’s visit to North Korea. This changes the calculus.

Will Claire McCaskill cater to her liberal base in Missouri and leave herself forced to defend an action that can reasonably be said to have led to the collapse of talks with North Korea? What about Joe Donnelly in Indiana, Tim Kaine in Virginia, Angus King in Maine, Amy Klobuchar in Minnesota and Joe Manchin in West Virginia, each of whom voted to confirm Pompeo to his current position, and all of whom are on the ballot in November? The campaign ads write themselves. I, for one, cannot wait.

Jenny Beth Martin is chairman of Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund.

Tags Amy Klobuchar Angus King Claire McCaskill Congress Democrats Donald Trump Foreign policy Joe Donnelly Joe Manchin John McCain Mike Pompeo National security North Korea Rand Paul Republicans Rex Tillerson State Department Tim Kaine

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