Senate confirms Coats as national intel chief

Senate confirms Coats as national intel chief
© Greg Nash

The Senate on Wednesday confirmed former Sen. Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsSchiff schedules public hearing with US intel chief  Rod Rosenstein joins law and lobbying firm DHS issues bulletin warning of potential Iranian cyberattack MORE to serve as President Trump's director of national intelligence. 

Senators voted 85-12 on Coats's nomination, with only a simple majority needed to approve the former Indiana lawmaker. 

Coats’s nomination easily cleared a procedural vote hours earlier, and Democrats let Senate leadership hold a final vote Wednesday despite having the ability to further draw out the process.

Once sworn in, Coats will be responsible for overseeing the 16 federal agencies commonly referred to collectively as the intelligence community.

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Though Coats was temporarily stalled in the Intelligence Committee amid a back-and-forth over paperwork, his nomination has been largely drama-free. 

Coats received a genial confirmation hearing where the major concern seemed to be whether Coats was too nice and would be sidelined by Trump and his close circle of advisers. 

But Coats tried to assuage those concerns during his hearing, saying that he and Trump had discussed his role as the president's "principal intelligence adviser."  

“I have been reassured time and time and time again by the president and his advisers that I am welcome and needed and expected to be part of the Principals Committee,” Coats said. 

Top Republicans praised Coats ahead of Wednesday's votes. 

"Dan's intellect, his judgment, his honorable service and his commitment to the workforce make him a natural fit as director of national intelligence," Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrJuan Williams: Counting the votes to remove Trump Hillicon Valley: Apple, Barr clash over Pensacola shooter's phone | Senate bill would boost Huawei alternatives | DHS orders agencies to fix Microsoft vulnerability | Chrome to phase out tracking cookies Senators offer bill to create alternatives to Huawei in 5G tech MORE (R-N.C.) said. "I have absolute trust that he will lead the community with integrity." 

Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report - House prosecutes Trump as 'lawless,' 'corrupt' Tensions between McConnell and Schumer run high as trial gains momentum No. 2 GOP leader eyes Wednesday of next week for possible votes on witnesses MORE (R-Ky.) called the former GOP senator an "excellent choice." 

Coats's confirmation comes as multiple congressional committees are investigating Russia's meddling in the White House race and potential ties between Moscow and the Trump campaign. 

Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerSenate Republicans muscle through rules for Trump trial Hillicon Valley: Apple, Barr clash over Pensacola shooter's phone | Senate bill would boost Huawei alternatives | DHS orders agencies to fix Microsoft vulnerability | Chrome to phase out tracking cookies Senators offer bill to create alternatives to Huawei in 5G tech MORE (Va.) — the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee — praised Coats ahead of Wednesday's vote for pledging to work with the committee on its investigation. 

"Another challenge that Sen. Coats will face on his first day on the job is to effectively support the Senate Intelligence Committee's ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election," he said. 

"Both in public and in private, Sen. Coats has promised that he will support the committee's investigation to the fullest."   

Some of the chamber's staunchest privacy-minded lawmakers, however, used Coats's nomination to question parts of the U.S. intelligence apparatus.

He faced questions during his hearing about a controversial surveillance law up for reauthorization this year. Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act gives U.S. intelligence agencies the ability to intercept the communications of noncitizens when outside the United States.

Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenRestlessness, light rule-breaking and milk spotted on Senate floor as impeachment trial rolls on Hillicon Valley — Presented by Philip Morris International — UN calls for probe into alleged Saudi hack of Bezos | Experts see effort to 'silence' Washington Post | Bezos tweets tribute to Khashoggi Bezos tweets tribute to Khashoggi in wake of reports of Saudi phone hacking MORE (D-Ore.), who voted against cloture for Coats's nomination earlier Wednesday, said his opposition to Coats wasn't personal but tied to wanting to know how many U.S. citizens are getting swept under Section 702. 

"It has been impossible to get the intelligence community to provide the Congress and the American people information that is absolutely critical to the debate on reauthorizing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act," he said. "For six long years, Democrats and Republicans ... have been trying to get this information."  

The National Security Agency has never provided the intelligence committee with those statistics despite multiple requests.

Coats served in the Senate twice, from 1989 to 1999 and from 2011 until his retirement last year. He was also the ambassador to Germany.