Mike Pompeo is qualified to be secretary of state. There is no doubt about that. He is competent — as director of the CIA, he has managed a complex organization deftly, winning the respect of intelligence professionals otherwise not favorably inclined to President Trump. He is experienced — in an administration with more than its share of neophytes, he has served in Washington, initially as a congressman, since 2011. He is highly credentialed — he graduated top of his class at West Point and went to Harvard Law School, where he edited the Harvard Law Review.
So the fight over his confirmation isn’t about his abilities, but instead is a raw power play to deny President Trump a top cabinet official. The reasons that Democrats are coming up with to oppose him are transparently weak. New Hampshire senator Jeanne Shaheen, who supported his nomination as CIA director, says she can’t support him for secretary of state because he opposes gay marriage and is pro-life. By this standard, we’ll never have a secretary of state again who doesn’t have the endorsement of NARAL.
Shaheen is on the foreign-relations committee, which for the first time ever won’t give a secretary of state nominee its blessing.
Pompeo will probably get confirmed anyway, but he needs Democratic votes because Steve Bannon and Rand Paul have, in effect, conspired to make the Republican-controlled Senate incapable of governing. Bannon, of course, backed to the hilt Roy Moore, who lost a Senate seat in ruby-red Alabama, reducing the Republican majority to 51–49. John McCain’s absence reduces the GOP margin further. And Rand Paul continues to be the single most destructive Republican senator, embracing a suicidal purity on budgetary matters and insisting that national-security nominees meet his wholly unrealistic standard of U.S. appeasement and withdrawal in foreign affairs. Paul is, naturally, opposed to Pompeo. That the Kentucky senator routinely undermines his own party and Trump’s agenda yet still remains in the good graces of the president is one of the great mysteries of Washington.
Another Republican, Jeff Flake of Arizona, has also hinted at opposing Pompeo based on travel restrictions to Cuba. We don’t share Flake’s enthusiasm for dealing with the island dictatorship, but, regardless, this is not an issue to block a secretary of state over, especially given the ongoing mystery over damaging sound attacks suffered by our embassy employees in Havana.
The good news is that Heidi Heitkamp, the Democrat from North Dakota, came out in favor of Pompeo’s nomination yesterday. A few more red-state Democrats will probably follow suit. Even if Pompeo gets confirmed, the vote will be historically narrow. This isn’t a commentary on his merits, but on the intensity of the Democratic opposition to Trump — and an unwelcome sign of things to come if Democrats take back the Senate next year.