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Sen. Tom Udall Weighs In On Mike Pompeo's Secretary Of State Nomination

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Now let's hear from one of those senators who oppose Mike Pompeo's confirmation for secretary of state, New Mexico senator Tom Udall. He's a Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And he joins us from the Capitol. Thank you for being with us.

TOM UDALL: Great to be with you, Ailsa.

CHANG: So why do you think Mike Pompeo should not be the next secretary of state?

UDALL: Mike Pompeo isn't the right person to be the United States' top diplomat. He's shown that he'll double down on President Trump's worst instincts and policies. I'm very concerned that he'd be a yes-man for President Trump. My fears were confirmed during my questioning of Pompeo during his confirmation hearing. For example, he refused to say whether he'd take any action in the event that President Trump fire Special Counsel Mueller or Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein.

CHANG: You say that you're afraid that Mike Pompeo will be a yes-man. I mean, why shouldn't the president appoint someone whose policy views overlap with his? I mean, isn't it better than having a secretary of state who isn't on the same page as the president, as was the case with former secretary of state Rex Tillerson?

UDALL: Well, the - President Trump's dangerous and erratic tweets and statements threaten to bring us closer to war. The next secretary of state needs to be an independent and strong advocate for diplomacy. I don't think Mike Pompeo will be that voice.

CHANG: But his recent trip to North Korea, his meeting with Kim Jong Un to lay the groundwork for an upcoming summit, why isn't that a sign that he could be someone who can engage diplomatically?

UDALL: Listen, I support smart diplomacy, and I support negotiations with North Korea. Diplomatic negotiations are the only way to prevent escalation in North Korea. More diplomacy is a good thing so long as these negotiations are serious and coordinated with our allies. I'd be glad to see that there's someone in the Trump administration who is laying some groundwork to help make a potential future meeting between President Trump and the North Korean leader productive.

CHANG: But do you think that Pompeo's recent trip to North Korea could be a sign that he is willing to engage diplomatically and not bellicosely?

UDALL: I just don't think he's the right man for the job.

CHANG: Pompeo obviously, though, is invested in this relationship between Trump and Kim Jong Un. I mean, why disrupt that dynamic now? Why not just put him in place as secretary of state and see what could be done?

UDALL: Well, I think he's in as the director of CIA. He has the confidence of the president there. But I think what we need now is a strong diplomat, someone who can reach out to countries around the world, rebuild the State Department and be a force for peace in this administration.

CHANG: White House aide Kellyanne Conway and Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas told reporters today that they think the math in the Senate is on Pompeo's side. They're confident that he can get moderate Democrats like Doug Jones of Alabama or Joe Manchin of West Virginia to vote for him. So isn't this just a done deal?

UDALL: I don't think so. I...

CHANG: Why not?

UDALL: ...I hate to ever predict and say how other senators are going to vote. But I think the idea of moving a yes-man from the CIA, someone who has these hostile instincts, over to the Department of State is not a good move. And so I think there are many senators who are very concerned.

CHANG: Have you taken any steps to talk to some of your more moderate colleagues to try to persuade them to be no votes on Pompeo?

UDALL: I actually haven't. But we've had some very good discussions in meetings where we air all the issues. And these are private discussions. But I think there's a lot of agonizing going on as to whether to put someone who has the president's confidence over at the CIA. But he doesn't have the diplomatic skills, and I think that would be very unfortunate to have him as our top diplomat.

CHANG: That's Senator Tom Udall, Democrat of New Mexico. Thank you very much for joining us.

UDALL: Thank you, Ailsa. Great to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.