- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 18, 2018

President Trump’s surprise decision to send CIA Director Mike Pompeo to North Korea for top-secret talks with Kim Jong-un earlier this month makes it more difficult for Senate Democrats to oppose Mr. Pompeo’s nomination as secretary of state, White House officials and Senate Republicans said Wednesday.

“This is a good example of how critical it is on the merits to confirm Mike Pompeo,” said Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican and a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. “He’s already invested deeply in the upcoming summit between the president and Kim Jong-un.”

Mr. Trump said Mr. Pompeo “had a great meeting with Kim Jong-un and got along with him really well” during his secret trip to Pyongyang. The president said the high-stakes mission is a good example of why he needs Mr. Pompeo to run the State Department.

“He is that kind of guy. He is really smart but he gets along with people,” Mr. Trump said.

The president called on Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, the only Republican expected to oppose Mr. Pompeo in what’s shaping up as a close vote next week, to change his mind and support the nominee.

“Rand Paul is a very special guy, as far as I’m concerned,” Mr. Trump told reporters. “He’s never let me down, and I don’t think he’ll let us down again.”

The president, meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at his private club in Florida, said he expects the Senate to confirm Mr. Pompeo.

“Our country really needs him,” Mr. Trump said.

Mr. Cotton said it would “set back preparations” for the North Korean summit, and perhaps even undermine the outcome, if Senate Democrats oppose Mr. Pompeo’s nomination as a bloc.

Mr. Pompeo secretly traveled to North Korea over the Easter weekend for a meeting with the North Korean leader, laying the groundwork for Mr. Trump’s summit with Mr. Kim in late May or early June at a site still to be determined. Switzerland is among the contenders to host the summit.

In trying to turn up the heat on Senate Democrats, the president and his advisers are highlighting the broad bipartisan support that senators gave Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush in choosing their top diplomats, dating back to 2001.

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said Mr. Pompeo is “unquestionably qualified to be our next Secretary of State.” She noted that the Senate confirmed Mr. Pompeo for the CIA post by a vote of 66-32 last year.

“There is absolutely no legitimate reason … that he should not receive bipartisan support 14 months later,” she said.

Mrs. Conway said the Senate has given overwhelming bipartisan support to recent secretary of state nominees, including 94-3 for John Kerry, 94-2 for Hillary Clinton, 85-13 for Condoleezza Rice and a unanimous vote for Colin Powell.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim are expected to discuss North Korea’s denuclearization in the wake of Pyongyang’s increasingly threatening actions testing ballistic missiles in violation of U.N. resolutions.

But even some Democrats who backed Mr. Pompeo, a West Point graduate and former congressman from Kansas, for the CIA post in 2017 are balking at supporting his nomination as secretary of state.

Democratic Sens. Tim Kaine of Virginia and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire have come out against Mr. Pompeo this time, and Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, even cited Mr. Pompeo’s secret diplomatic mission to North Korea as one reason he was opposing the nominee.

Mr. Menendez, speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank Wednesday, complained that Mr. Pompeo never mentioned the Pyongyang trip even though it took place days before his confirmation hearing.

“I don’t expect diplomacy to be negotiated out in the open, but I do expect for someone who is the nominee for secretary of state, when he speaks with committee leadership, and when he was asked specific questions about North Korea, to share some insights about such a visit,” Mr. Menendez said.

With Mr. Paul opposed to Mr. Trump’s pick, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell faces the possibility of trying to win approval of the nomination on the Senate floor without the endorsement of the Senate foreign relations panel.

The administration needs at least one Senate Democrat to cross the aisle and support Mr. Pompeo to win confirmation, due to Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky’s plan to vote “no” and the absence of Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, who is ill. Republicans hold a 51-49 majority.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican, told a Christian Science Monitor breakfast Wednesday that he had learned of the Pompeo trip only after the fact from news accounts, but praised the secret mission as a necessary “precursor” to Mr. Trump’s planned summit with Mr. Kim. He noted that many of the back-channel communications between Washington and Pyongyang over the years had been conducted by the intelligence services.

It was “perfectly natural” that the outgoing CIA chief “would have the first meeting,” Mr. Corker said, adding the assignment “speaks to the fact that President Trump has a lot of faith in him.”

North Korean state media has been silent on Mr. Pompeo’s visit, which took place about one week after Mr. Kim traveled to China for an historic visit with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Mr. Kim also met that week with International Olympic Committee Chief Thomas Bach in Pyongyang, NK News reported.

After Mr. Pompeo’s generally well-reviewed Senate confirmation hearing last week, “It’s hard to say that Mike Pompeo is not qualified for the job” of secretary of state, Mr. Corker told reporters.

But, he added, it’s “difficult” for some of his Senate Democratic colleagues to support the choice “because the base on the left views supporting the nominee as a proxy for supporting the Trump administration.”

He contrasted that with the sizable Republican support for President Obama’s two nominees for Foggy Bottom — Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Kerry.

The partisan opposition to Mr. Pompeo “is carrying it a little far,” he said.

David R. Sands contributed to this article.

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