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Senate Panel Expected To Vote Against Pompeo To Lead State Department

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Today, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is going to vote on President Trump's pick for secretary of state, Mike Pompeo. It is looking like Pompeo will not get that panel's backing. And this will be the first time a nominee for secretary of state did not win support from this Senate committee in modern history. The committee's chairman, Republican Senator Bob Corker, partially put the blame on Democrats and partisanship.

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BOB CORKER: It's just the environment we're in. I know that they are the base, the left, but the base on the Democratic side abhors the president, and I realize that many of them just don't want to do anything that shows a proxy of support for Trump by voting for a secretary of state.

GREENE: All right, NPR's Susan Davis covers Congress and is in our studios in Washington.

Good morning, Sue.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: All right, so Democrats can't just do this on their own. They needed at least one Republican vote on this committee to try and at least send this nomination to the floor with an unfavorable review.

DAVIS: So the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, unlike most, is very narrowly divided. It's an 11-10 split. So if you don't have any of the Democrats on the committee on board, which they don't as of now, and they don't have Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul, which means as of now, they do not have the votes to give what would be considered an affirmative vote out of committee for the nominee to go to the floor. Like you said, if they don't get that, it would essentially be the first time ever. No nominee for secretary of state has ever not been favorably reported out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

GREENE: So maybe historic and maybe a symbolic blow, but it still looks like Pompeo will be confirmed by the full Senate, right?

DAVIS: It does, and that's still on track for later this week. It's not a good optic, but it doesn't slow the nomination. And Republicans do have some help from some Democrats. North Dakota Democrat Heidi Heitkamp announced late last week that she would vote in favor of his nomination, likely meaning he can squeak out at least 50 votes plus the vice president on the floor, although there's about half a dozen Democrats who still haven't said which way they're going to vote on Pompeo. So the expectation is that he will be confirmed before the week's over.

GREENE: Interesting thing here, Sue, because Pompeo, you know, is currently the director of the CIA. And often, you see when someone went through a confirmation process in another job pretty recently, you know, you might see them sail through. I mean, the - he won Senate support in that role by a good bit. What is different this time?

DAVIS: He got 14 Democrats when he became CIA director. It's unlikely he's going to get that this time around. I mean, Democrats will say, one, that this is fundamentally a different job. Being the nation's top intelligence officer is different than being the nation's top diplomat. When he was in Congress, he opposed things like President Obama's Iran nuclear deal, which Democrats pointed to overwhelmingly in stating their opposition, saying he's just not disposed to being a diplomat the way that they would like to see. And Bob Corker has a point. You know, this is election-year politics, and there's a lot of Democrats that don't want to be casting a vote that they will see as a proxy that is an affirmation of President Trump's foreign policy, which they do not support.

GREENE: Well, if Corker is right, as you say, and Democrats are kind of in this mode right now, could that be - could that mean trouble for future Trump nominees?

DAVIS: It could. And it's really interesting because, remember, the Senate changed the votes to make it easier to get all of these nominees through. You used to need 60. You'd only need 50 now. But it's the realities of a narrowly divided Senate. Two that we're watching that are coming up soon is the president's nominee of Ronny Jackson to be the VA secretary - Democrats have a lot of questions over concerns that he - over privatization at the VA - and Gina Haspel to be Mike Pompeo's successor at CIA. Democrats are raising a lot of concerns about her and what her role at the agency was, particularly during the Bush era, in so-called enhanced interrogation or torture programs.

GREENE: All right, NPR's Susan Davis talking to us about this vote we're expecting today on Mike Pompeo and to Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Sue, thanks.

DAVIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.