How Rand Paul could still stop Pompeo
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With Paul’s resistance hardening and nine of the 10 Democrats on the panel already opposed, Pompeo is likely to get an unfavorable vote in committee. The question is whether Democrats would team up with Paul to kill his nomination outright, rather than issuing a negative recommendation but allowing the secretary of State nominee to be taken up by the full Senate.
One option for opponents bent on scuttling Pompeo would be to vote against sending his nomination to the floor, even with an unfavorable recommendation; another would be to filibuster an attempt by Republican leadership to bring the nomination straight to the floor and circumvent the committee.
If the committee does allow Pompeo’s nomination to be taken up by the full Senate, he appears to have the votes to be confirmed. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) said Thursday she will support Pompeo, and she’s likely to be followed by at least two other moderate Democrats.
Democrats are still weighing whether to commit to blocking Pompeo in committee, though Paul will oppose all attempts to move Pompeo to the floor, according to sources familiar with the matter.
At this point, top Senate Republicans have given up on trying to bring Paul around on the nomination.
“I’ll leave him to the president. He’s a friend of mine, but I’ll let the president deal with that,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said Thursday.
Paul was mostly mum on his plans other than to indicate he hasn’t changed his mind. “I don’t really have anything new to report,” he said in a brief interview.
But he was quick to defend himself from Graham’s comments suggesting that Paul still hasn’t gotten over his loss to Trump.
“People who impulsively wanted war with North Korea just a month ago should refrain from offering their opinions,” said Paul spokesman Sergio Gor, of Graham.
Democrats have two significant reasons to let Pompeo advance to a full Senate vote, despite their opposition. For one, they’d be flouting the will of the entire body. It would also create a precedent that could haunt them when Democrats eventually return to power. However, liberal activists will be furious if Democrats do anything that smacks of helping Pompeo and Trump.
Democrats on the committee are still in talks about their strategy for Monday’s panel vote on Pompeo, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) said Thursday, “but clearly I think there’s a pretty good consensus” against the nomination in general.
If Democrats opt to allow Pompeo to advance to a floor vote, they’d likely be doing more to help his nomination than Paul, whom Trump called a “very special guy” on Wednesday.
The GOP angst is palpable. The party barely has a majority as it is: With Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) recovering from cancer, its advantage is down to 50-49. Lose one member, and Democrats have all the leverage.
The frustration with Paul’s periodic protests has become so acute that GOP senators have discussed a long-shot effort to boot Paul from the Foreign Relations Committee, according to one Republican senator. The senator said it was silly to support committee rosters that allow Paul to block the president’s agenda.
“It’s one thing for Sen. Paul to vote no on Mike Pompeo; it’s another thing entirely if he’s leading the charge to defeat him,” said a senior Republican aide.
Beyond his opposition to Pompeo, Paul has used his committee perch to work with Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) to force Senate votes on limiting U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia and curbing the U.S. military commitment to the violent Saudi-backed civil war in Yemen. Both votes annoyed hawkish Republicans.
GOP leaders and committee chairmen have also been speaking with “increasing concern” about Paul’s outsize influence on the Senate agenda, according to a second GOP senator.
“I don’t think there’s any logical reason that he should” try to stop Pompeo, said Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), who is filling in atop the Armed Services Committee in McCain’s absence. “However, it does allow him to get attention, which is what he likes.”
Gor, Paul’s spokesman, dismissed critics who say the senator opposes Trump’s agenda.
“Sen. Rand Paul remains one of the biggest supporters of the America First agenda, from limiting foreign interventions to cutting taxes, Sen. Paul continues his great relationship with the president and will continue to support his efforts,” Gor said.
Paul is poised to play the same spoiler role when the Senate takes its first action next month on Trump’s nomination of Gina Haspel to succeed Pompeo at the helm of the CIA. While Paul doesn’t sit on the Intelligence Committee, which will take up Haspel first, he’s vowed to oppose her on the floor over her central role in the George W. Bush administration’s use of brutal interrogation tactics against detained terrorist suspects.
Paul has largely avoided Trump’s wrath, mainly because he says nice things about the president even when he opposes Trump’s priorities. The two have played golf together and speak with some regularity, aggravating senior Republicans who believe Trump is unaware that Paul is undermining his agenda.
Incredibly, Trump apparently forgot that Paul opposed the GOP’s last-ditch effort to repeal and replace Obamacare last fall. Instead, the president recalled only Paul’s July vote in favor of a so-called “skinny repeal” bill, which failed narrowly on the Senate floor when McCain dramatically voted against it.
“It was somebody else that voted against it — that hurt us,” Trump said, referring to McCain. “So, I have a lot of confidence in Rand, but I also have a great deal of confidence in Mike Pompeo.”