The Senate on Thursday confirmed Rep. John Ratcliffe, Texas Republican, as the next director of national intelligence.
His confirmation — which was approved by a 49-44 vote largely along party lines — came roughly two weeks after his nomination hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
During the hearing, Mr. Ratcliffe vowed to keep political considerations out of his work, amid reports of tension between the White House and intelligence analysts over China’s role in the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr. Trump tapped Mr. Ratcliffe to head the intelligence community at the end of February, days after he fired the former acting DNI chief Joseph Maguire.
In the following weeks, Mr. Trump removed a small handful of top intelligence officials, including Michael Atkinson, former inspector general for the intelligence community.
During Mr. Ratcliffe’s nomination hearing, he said that, if confirmed, an immediate priority will be to probe the origins of the new coronavirus, as Mr. Trump and top aides escalate a war of words with China over the handling of the outbreak.
A U.S. intelligence consensus has reportedly concluded the virus most likely originated naturally, but Mr. Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo say they have seen evidence that a Chinese lab in Wuhan could have played a role in releasing the new virus.
In general terms, Mr. Ratcliffe said China was the country’s “greatest threat actor right now.”
His confirmation was welcomed by Republicans in the Senate, namely by Sen. Marco Rubio, who was recently picked to be the acting chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
“I look forward to working with Director Ratcliffe as he oversees the efforts of our nation’s 17 intelligence agencies,” the Florida Republican said in a statement following the vote.
“In a time when the threats to our nation are many and varied, it is critical to have a Senate-confirmed DNI ensuring the wide array of intelligence agencies are sharing information across lines, coordinating capabilities, and working in the furtherance of our nation’s security using 21st century, cutting-edge capabilities,” Mr. Rubio said, adding that he is “confident” Mr. Ratcliffe will fulfill these responsibilities.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, congratulated Mr. Ratcliffe, but said the new director will have “tremendous power to do good and to be transparent.”
“I want to remind him as I have reminded many heads of departments before: transparency brings accountability and the public’s business ought to be public,” Mr. Grassley said in a statement.
“When Congress comes knocking, the Intelligence Community must answer,” he continued. “You answer to us, and to the people.”
Mr. Ratcliffe will replace acting DNI chief Richard Grenell, who was tapped to the top spy post in February.
Mr. Grenell, the first openly gay member of Mr. Trump’s Cabinet, has been criticized for his lack of intelligence experience and has repeatedly sparred with members of Congress.
Mr. Ratcliffe has also come under fire over suspicions that he had exaggerated his national security qualifications — a debate that led him to withdraw his initial nomination for the post last August.
He has represented Texas’ 4th Congressional District since 2015, and his supporters have pointed to his work on security and intelligence matters as a prosecutor, as well as his service on the House Intelligence, Judiciary, and Ethics committees.