Overnight Defense: Pompeo clears Senate panel, on track for confirmation | Retired officers oppose Haspel for CIA director | Iran, Syria on agenda for Macron visit

Overnight Defense: Pompeo clears Senate panel, on track for confirmation | Retired officers oppose Haspel for CIA director | Iran, Syria on agenda for Macron visit
© Greg Nash

Happy Monday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Rebecca Kheel, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond.


THE TOPLINE: In a surprise, Secretary of State nominee Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoBolton replacement inherits tough challenges — including Trump Saudi Arabia says it will take 'appropriate' action if Iran's role in attacks confirmed Clarence Thomas, Joe Manchin, Rudy Giuliani among guests at second state visit under Trump MORE cleared the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Monday evening.

It looked like Pompeo would not be reported favorably out of the committee until just a few minutes before the panel met. Then, Republican Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulOn The Money: House votes to avert shutdown, fund government through November | Judge blocks California law requiring Trump tax returns | Senate panel approves three spending bills Paul objection snags confirmation of former McConnell staffer Defense bill talks set to start amid wall fight MORE (Ky.) changed his mind.

With all committee Democrats opposed to Pompeo, Paul's opposition would have given Pompeo a negative recommendation.


But just before 5 p.m. Monday, Paul said he received the assurances he was looking for to support Pompeo.

"After calling continuously for weeks for Director Pompeo to support President TrumpDonald John TrumpAlaska Republican Party cancels 2020 primary Ukrainian official denies Trump pressured president Trump goes after New York Times, Washington Post: 'They have gone totally CRAZY!!!!' MORE's belief that the Iraq war was a mistake, and that it is time to leave Afghanistan, today I received confirmation the Director Pompeo agrees with @realDonaldTrump," Paul tweeted. 


Still some drama: Sen. Johnny IsaksonJohnny IsaksonCollins seeks appointment to Isakson seat McBath passes on running for Senate Here are the lawmakers who aren't seeking reelection in 2020 MORE (R-Ga.) was absent Monday to deliver a eulogy for a friend. Senate rules say a majority of those present is needed to favorably report a nominee out of committee, meaning Pompeo would have been unfavorably reported by a 10-10 vote.

Noting the historic nature of unfavorably reporting a secretary of State nominee, committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerTrump announces, endorses ambassador to Japan's Tennessee Senate bid Meet the key Senate player in GOP fight over Saudi Arabia Trump says he's 'very happy' some GOP senators have 'gone on to greener pastures' MORE (R-Tenn.) implored a Democrat to vote "present" instead or else said the committee would reconvene at 11 p.m. when Isakson returned.

Sen. Chris CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsSenate committee approves 0 million for state election security efforts Media and candidates should be ashamed that they don't talk about obesity Bill to return B in unredeemed bonds advances MORE (D-Del.), noting his opposition to Pompeo was already recorded and Isakson's emotionally difficult day, obliged and voted present to allow Pompeo to go to the Senate floor. 


What now: The drama over Pompeo's confirmation appears to have deflated.

In addition to Monday's committee vote, more centrist Democrats came out in support of Pompeo, giving him more than enough votes to pass the full Senate.

Sens. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinO'Rourke gun confiscation talk alarms Democrats Clarence Thomas, Joe Manchin, Rudy Giuliani among guests at second state visit under Trump Schumer: I don't know any 'Democrat who agrees' with O'Rourke on gun seizures MORE (D-W.Va.) and Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyLobbying world Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand GOP frets over nightmare scenario for Senate primaries MORE (D-Ind.) said they would vote for Pompeo. They join Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampThe Hill's Morning Report — Biden steadies in third debate as top tier remains the same Trump wins 60 percent approval in rural areas of key states Pence to push new NAFTA deal in visit to Iowa MORE (D-N.D.), giving Pompeo at least three Democratic votes.

Even before Paul's flip, Pompeo only needed one Democrat to support him to be confirmed.

With Paul now a yes, the Democrats are icing.


Why it still matters: Even though Pompeo has the votes to be confirmed, he's set to receive an unusual number of no votes for a secretary of State.

For example, John KerryJohn Forbes KerryIn New Mexico, a phony amigo Warren shows signs of broadening her base Let's not play Charlie Brown to Iran's Lucy MORE was confirmed 94–3, Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonUkrainian official denies Trump pressured president The Memo: 'Whistleblower' furor gains steam Missing piece to the Ukraine puzzle: State Department's overture to Rudy Giuliani MORE by 94–2, Condoleezza Rice by 85–13 and Colin Powell by voice vote.

The opposition to Pompeo is indicative of the political divide in the United States. But, because he'll be the top diplomat, that vote could also send a signal to the world.

Trump administration officials and Republicans, though, have been dismissive of the idea that weak support for Pompeo sends a bad signal about American diplomacy.

"I think what it says to the world is what we've been saying for a long time, is the Senate has got some real problems and they need to figure out how to actually show up and do their job a little bit better," White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday of the possibility Pompeo could have been voted against in committee.


ON TO THE NEXT ONE: With Pompeo now likely to win confirmation, attention will turn to President Trump's choice to replace Pompeo, Gina Haspel.

On Monday, 109 retired generals and admirals sent a letter to the Senate opposing Haspel's nomination. The letter was released by Human Rights First.

Signatories on the letter include former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Henry Hugh Shelton, former Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Charles Krulak and former U.S. Surgeon General Vice Adm. Richard Carmona.

"We do not accept efforts to excuse her actions relating to torture and other unlawful abuse of detainees by offering that she was 'just following orders,' or that shock from the 9/11 terrorist attacks should excuse illegal and unethical conduct," the retired officers wrote. 


Background: Opponents of Haspel are focused on her role in so-called enhanced interrogation techniques and the destruction of videotapes of harsh interrogations at a black site prison in Thailand.

Opponents argue she strongly advocated for the choice to destroy the tapes, while supporters say she did nothing illegal at the time.

Late last week, the CIA declassified a memo that said Haspel "acted appropriately" in carrying out orders to destroy videotapes.

"I have concluded that she acted appropriately in her role as Mr. Rodriguez's chief of staff, including in her efforts to press for and facilitate a resolution of the matter, as well as in her drafting of the cable that authorized the destruction of the tapes," then-CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell wrote in the memo. "She drafted the cable on the direct orders of Mr. Rodriguez; she did not release that cable. It was not her decision to destroy the tapes; it was Mr. Rodriguez's."


MACRON ARRIVES: French President Emmanuel Macron arrived in D.C. on Monday for the first official state visit of Trump's presidency.

A number of defense issues are on the agenda for Macron's three-day visit. In particular, Macron is trying to persuade Trump to stay in the Iran nuclear deal, as well as maintain a U.S. presence in Syria.

Ahead of the visit, Macron told Fox News that there is no alternative to the nuclear deal.

"I don't have any plan B," Macron told Chris Wallace on "Fox News Sunday."

On Monday, Iran's foreign minister agreed.

"President Macron is correct in saying there's no 'Plan B' on JCPOA," Foreign Minister Javad Zarif wrote on Twitter, using the acronym of the official name of the nuclear deal.

"European leaders should encourage President Trump not just to stay in the nuclear deal, but more importantly to begin implementing his part of the bargain in good faith."

Why it matters: Trump has given European allies a May 12 deadline to agree to a follow-on deal with changes or else he will essentially withdraw the United States from the nuclear accord.

Macron has developed a good rapport with Trump, so his visit is seen by some as the last best chance to convince Trump otherwise.



Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee at 9:30 a.m. at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, room G-50. https://bit.ly/2GdTEai

Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson and Marines Commandant Gen. Robert Neller testify before the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee at 10 a.m. at Dirksen 192. https://bit.ly/2K8f6Qh

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for the nominees to be ambassador to Australia, deputy representative of the U.S. to the United Nations and U.S. representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency at 10 a.m. at Dirksen 419. https://bit.ly/2vGrTGu



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