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Roger Wicker Discusses His Support For Mike Pompeo As Secretary Of State

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

As we just heard, Mike Pompeo will likely be the first secretary of state nominee in modern history to get a vote in the full Senate without a committee endorsement. And as we heard, it's not only Democrats who are standing in his way. Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky points to Pompeo's calls for regime change in Iran and North Korea, and he expressed concerns for what those comments might mean for diplomacy. I spoke earlier with Republican Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi, and asked if he shares any of Senator Paul's reservations.

ROGER WICKER: No, I don't. I don't know when Mr. Pompeo might have made those statements, but it is now going to be our position in dealing with the Kim regime not to advocate regime change but to allow them to demonstrate whether they're actually willing to denuclearize the Korean peninsula. And that will be the position of the administration. So I think he's going to be very effective in doing that. I think the Iranian people would be a lot better off with different leadership. And frankly, it's my hope that eventually they could get out from under this authoritarian rule in Iran. And so...

CHANG: You think Pompeo should push for regime change in Iran.

WICKER: ...I have no problem with someone who feels, as I do, that the people of Iran are not well served.

CHANG: In his confirmation hearing, Pompeo did not distance himself from some controversial statements and positions he's had about gays, about Muslims. Do you think he can be a voice for American values given that kind of track record?

WICKER: I think he's well positioned to serve in this capacity. There's nothing at all in his record of service during the entirety of the Trump administration to show that any of these past statements have become a problem, and let me just say this. I think it's a shame that the Democrats largely - it's largely the Democratic opposition that's a problem here. And they're not showing the same sort of bipartisanship that I showed and that my party showed when the presidency was held by the Democrats. And when Democrats had a majority in the United States Senate, we have typically endorsed secretaries of state.

CHANG: Let's talk a little bit about that bipartisanship. I mean, this will be the first time in modern history that the Senate will vote for a secretary of state that doesn't have committee endorsement. What do you make of that specifically, that this is not normal - subverting the will of the committee on such an important nominee?

WICKER: No, I would say I would agree with you. It's not normal. And frankly, I think The Washington Post would agree with me on this. They've said confirm Mike Pompeo.

CHANG: Wait, what's not normal?

WICKER: This is...

CHANG: That this nominee's name will be sent to the floor without a committee endorsement?

WICKER: It's not normal for this to become a partisan issue. And I just think the American people are going to see this as a partisan - as a partisan divide.

CHANG: We know now that Pompeo went on a secret mission to North Korea before his confirmation hearing, but that mission was never brought up or discussed during his confirmation hearing. Does that give you any pause about how...

WICKER: (Laughter).

CHANG: ...Transparent he will be with Congress going forward?

WICKER: Well, for one thing, as CIA director, Mike Pompeo was certainly within the bounds of his office to go on a mission sent by the commander in chief. And the fact that he can keep a secret on something that's very, very sensitive - to me - is something in his favor. I think it would've been inappropriate for him to divulge that before the administration felt that it should be made public.

CHANG: You plan to vote for him. What gives you confidence that Mike Pompeo is the right individual to lead the State Department?

WICKER: This is a man who has the president's confidence. I think he's a grownup that knows how dangerous the world is. I think he knows how dangerous conflict is and that diplomacy is best. And I think he's somebody that the president will listen to and has confidence in. And that's very important - that he join this team that includes John Bolton and Nikki Haley and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary Mattis. I think we're getting to the point where we have a team that the president feels comfortable with, and I think he'll listen to them and come out with a good result.

CHANG: That's Republican Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi. Thank you very much.

WICKER: And thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.