A skeptical Sen. Rand Paul met behind closed doors with President Donald Trump’s choice for secretary of state on Thursday, as the president tried to avoid an embarrassing defeat for his Cabinet pick.
Trump called Paul Wednesday to urge him to meet with Mike Pompeo, now the CIA director, in the hopes he might drop his opposition to Pompeo. The two met in Paul’s Senate office building for fewer than 40 minutes. Pompeo smiled to reporters as he left Paul’s office, but didn’t say whether he believed he’d been able to change the Kentucky Republican’s mind.
Paul earlier told reporters it would take a “great deal” and a public declaration that Pompeo shares Trump’s world view for him to vote for Pompeo.
Trump and Pompeo, though, did pick up critical support when Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-North Dakota, announced Thursday that she’ll back Pompeo on the Senate floor. Heitkamp, one of several red state Democrats up for re-election in November in states that Trump won, said after meeting with Pompeo she believes he’s “committed to empowering the diplomats at the State Department so they can do their jobs in advancing American interests."
Pompeo’s meeting with Paul came after Trump, who is spending the week at his resort in Palm Beach, said Wednesday he wasn't worried about Pompeo’s confirmation and that Paul would come through for him.
“I will say this about Rand Paul: He’s never let me down,” Trump said. “Rand Paul is a very special guy, as far as I’m concerned. He’s never let me down. And I don’t think he’ll let us down again. So let’s see what happens.”
He noted Paul ultimately voted for a Senate health care bill “and he did us a big favor. It was somebody else that voted against it that hurt us. So I have a lot of confidence in Rand, but I also have a great deal of confidence in Mike Pompeo."
You know, a lot of people are predicting other things. But I have a feeling it’s going to work out very well, and I think our country really needs him. He’s going to be a great leader
President Donald Trump
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has scheduled to vote on the nomination Monday, where it has an uncertain fate. Republican leaders had considered bypassing the committee and sending the nomination directly to the floor for a vote but scrapped the idea.
Committee chair Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., acknowledged "it doesn't look promising" that Pompeo will clear the committee. But he said there were still steps to get the nomination to the Senate floor, where he said he expects enough Democratic votes for passage.
Corker said he hadn't talked with Paul about his opposition: "I'll leave that to the president," he said. "I doubt anything changes there."
Corker said he talked with Pompeo on Wednesday and told him that a negative vote out of the committee won't matter if he’s confirmed by the Senate.
"You're still Secretary of State and all of this dissipates," Corker said he told Pompeo.
With Paul opposed and Republican John McCain of Arizona out battling cancer, Pompeo needs some Democrats to be confirmed.
Nearly every Democrat on the Foreign Relations committee has already announced they oppose the former Kansas congressman, even the two who supported him for CIA director last year, Tim Kaine of Virginia and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire. Several others also have come out against him. Many have cited what they consider Pompeo’s anti-American views on religious freedom, Muslims and gay people.
Paul said Wednesday that he doesn’t think Pompeo “shares the same vision of the president on foreign policy,” noting that Trump has repeatedly said the Iraq War was a mistake and that it is time to end the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. He’s also suggested he wants the U.S. to leave Syria.
We do need to rethink all these wars in the Middle East, we need to rethink our involvement in them, we really need to have some other countries doing some of the fighting and the policing.
“He seems to be consistently against engaging in new large land wars in the Middle East and I haven’t gotten the feeling that Director Pompeo agrees with that,” Paul said. “I think he’s been more of the ‘Let's stay forever in the Middle East, let’s stay forever in Afghanistan."
Paul said he wants Pompeo to say publicly, not privately, that he agrees with Trump's position. "It would be a big deal for me to change my position on him," he said. "It would really take Director Pompeo showing that he really does agree with the president's vision that Iraq war was a mistake, that we stayed in Afghanistan too long.”
On Wednesday, the left-leaning group American Bridge launched Facebook ads targeting three undecided Republican members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – Jeff Flake of Arizona, Dean Heller of Nevada and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska – after McClatchy reported Pompeo did not tell Congress he owned a Kansas business that imported oilfield equipment from a company owned by the Chinese government.
On Thursday, another left-leaning group, National Security Action, launched digital ads urging the same senators to reject the nomination of Pompeo focusing on “his predisposition for the use of force over diplomacy,” his record on climate change and what it calls his bigotry against minorities, including Muslim Americans.