A small bipartisan gesture at the end of a fiercely partisan fight Monday has put Mike Pompeo on course to Senate confirmation as the nation’s next secretary of state.
During a day of wild parliamentary back-and-forth in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the former congressman from Kansas and outgoing CIA director secured the crucial vote of lone Republican holdout Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, only to face rejection from the panel because fellow Republican committee member Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia missed the Monday evening confirmation vote to attend a funeral back home.
But Sen. Christopher A. Coons, Delaware Democrat, volunteered to vote “present” on the nominee, resulting in a party-line 11-9 vote — Mr. Isakson’s proxy vote in favor counting because of Mr. Coons’ gesture — recommending that the full Senate approve Mr. Trump’s pick to replace the fired Rex W. Tillerson.
With at least three moderate Senate Democrats on record in support of Mr. Pompeo, the full Senate appears poised to confirm Mr. Pompeo.
“The Pompeo nomination has now been reported out of the Foreign Relations Committee, and there are sufficient votes in the Senate to ensure that he will be confirmed this week as our nation’s next secretary of state,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said minutes after the Senate panel wrapped up its work.
But Mr. Paul’s change of heart and Mr. Coons’ “present” vote spared Mr. Trump and Mr. Pompeo an unprecedented rebuke at the committee level for one of the government’s highest posts.
As Republicans complained repeatedly Monday, past secretary of state confirmation battles had never been so partisan. President Obama’s choices — Hillary Clinton and John F. Kerry — received more than 90 favorable votes.
The vote also represented a rare lobbying win for President Trump on Capitol Hill. Mr. Trump and Mr. Pompeo talked repeatedly with the libertarian Mr. Paul in an effort to win his vote.
It appeared for much of the day that Mr. Pompeo would have to win his nomination fight without the backing of the committee, but minutes before the vote, Mr. Paul announced that he had received assurances that Mr. Trump and Mr. Pompeo had heard and understood his reservations about the Iraq War, overseas adventurism and the perils of a foreign policy focused on “regime change.”
“Having received assurances … I have decided to support his nomination to be our next Secretary of State,” Mr. Paul Tweeted on Monday afternoon.
During a White House event with French President Emmanuel Macron, Mr. Trump said Mr. Paul “never let us down” and is “a good man.”
Hours before the committee vote Monday, Mr. Trump slammed Democrats for opposing Mr. Pompeo, including a number who supported the West Point graduate for the CIA post just a year ago.
“Hard to believe obstructionists may vote against Mike Pompeo for secretary of state,” Mr. Trump said in a tweet.
Marc Short, White House legislative affairs director, suggested to reporters that the senator from Kentucky could change his position.
A vote against Mr. Pompeo from the Senate committee could have forced Senate Republican leadership to take the unusual step of sending a top nomination to the full Senate without a favorable recommendation, which has not occurred since 1989.
That year, the Armed Services Committee voted against John Tower, President George H.W. Bush’s pick for secretary of defense. The full Senate later rejected Mr. Tower as well.
Despite the risk of a committee rebuke, Mr. Pompeo was on track to receive approval from a full Senate vote this week.
On Monday, two Senate Democrats facing tough re-election bids, West Virginia’s Joe Manchin III and Indiana’s Joe Donnelly, announced their support for the nominee. Other centrist Democrats, including Virginia’s Mark R. Warner and Alabama’s Doug Jones, have not declared their positions.
Those votes, along with previously announced support from Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, North Dakota Democrat, who is also up for re-election — looked to make the confirmation almost certain.
Hawks and doves
If confirmed, Mr. Pompeo will be fourth in line to the presidency.
His nomination battle has been blamed on election-year political partisanship. Democrats questioned Mr. Pompeo’s stands on gay rights and other social issues in his confirmation hearing this month.
“I understand the climate we are in,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker told reporters Monday. “I understand the polarization we have as a nation.”
The Tennessee Republican said Mr. Pompeo was one of the most qualified nominees in history to be tapped as secretary of state, one who had proved his diplomatic skills with a secret mission to Pyongyang over the Easter weekend to help prepare for a proposed summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
But several Democrats who backed Mr. Pompeo for the CIA said his comments as a hawkish lawmaker in Congress made him less-suited to be the nation’s top diplomat and the face of American foreign policy.
Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, expressed concerns that Mr. Pompeo, who has a much closer personal rapport with the president than Mr. Tillerson did, could be a yes man to Mr. Trump’s worst instincts.
During his rocky tenure at the nation’s most influential diplomatic agency, Mr. Tillerson presided over a major budget cut, staff cutbacks and an overall demoralization of the diplomatic corps. Numerous senior positions remain empty. Senate Republicans argued Monday that Mr. Pompeo’s successful record managing the CIA would translate well to rebuilding staff and morale at Foggy Bottom.
As CIA chief, Mr. Pompeo cultivated a close relationship with Mr. Trump by briefing him frequently in person on the world’s most sensitive matters and taking a small office on an upper floor of the Old Executive Office Building, just a short walk from the White House.
“He has a very good relationship with the president,” Mr. Corker said Monday. “That is somewhat different from the last three secretaries of state we have had.”
Since his election, even Mr. Trump publicly blasted the FBI and Justice Department for their roles in investigating Russia election meddling, Mr. Pompeo has largely shielded the CIA from the president’s wrath.