Pompeo scrapes through Senate confirmation panel after Paul's U-turn

Pompeo scrapes through Senate confirmation panel after Paul's U-turn
3 min read
24 April, 2018
The nominee for US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo secured a shock approval from a Senate panel, amid fears his bellicose approach to diplomacy will shatter fragile international ties.
Pompeo was almost the first secretary of state-nominee to be rejected by the committee [Getty]

US President Donald Trump's much disputed pick for secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, narrowly won approval from a Senate panel on Monday, paving the way for the CIA director to become America's top diplomat.

A dramatic last-minute U-turn by Republican Senator Rand Paul, who for weeks had expressed his opposition to Pompeo over his stance on the Iraq war and surveillance issues, gave the spy chief a narrow victory.

The vote of approval by 11 to 9 from the Senate's Republican-led Foreign Relations committee allowed Trump to avoid an embarrassing setback as he sought to replace Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state he fired in March.

If Paul had not reversed his position, Pompeo would have become the first secretary of state-nominee on record to be rejected by the committee, according to the Senate Historical Office.

Paul said he changed his vote after speaking to Trump "several times," and after meeting with Pompeo.

The maverick Republican said he was assured that Trump believes the Iraq war was a mistake and wants to end the US presence there and in Afghanistan.

"The president has assured me there is going to be a discussion" on those issues, Paul said.

As for Pompeo, Paul told reporters, "He's assured me that he's learned the lesson" of Iraq and "has incorporated the idea that the Iraq war was a mistake".

Pompeo's nomination will now proceed to a vote by the complete Senate, where the support of at least three Democrats guarantees its passage.

Leader of talks with North Korea

A negative vote could also have unsettled delicate negotiations with North Korea, as Pompeo has taken the lead in arranging a historic summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader.

The summit aims to reduce tensions brought about by Pyongyang's development of a nuclear weapon and ballistic missiles powerful enough to reach American soil.

Pompeo secretly travelled to Pyongyang in late March to meet with Kim to lay the groundwork for the meeting, which could take place in early June.


Director of the CIA since the beginning of the Trump administration, Pompeo has become one of the president's closest advisors.

He would replace Tillerson, the former oil executive who was pushed out in March after a rocky relationship with the White House and a management approach that left the State Department understaffed and demoralised.

But Democrats have assailed Pompeo for his record of bellicose statements they say are at odds with his prospective job as the chief US diplomat, and also have cited anti-Muslim and anti-LGBTQ statements he has made in the past.

Read more: A tale of two secretaries: Exit Tillerson, enter Pompeo

Others, like Senator Maggie Hassan, said they worried Pompeo was too close politically to the president to stand up to him if need be.

Hassan said she was "concerned that Mr Pompeo would be unable to rise above a partisan perspective when making foreign policy decisions".

Middle East fears for the worst

Unlike his predecessor Tillerson, whose tenure has been described as "at best, unmemorable", Pompeo is known to be fiery and controversial in person and in his work.

Many observers believe that US diplomacy under Pompeo will suffer, in part due to his vehement opposition to the Iran nuclear deal that will likely antagonise Iranian hardliners and push them toward nuclear proliferation.

Read more: Pompeo's appointment bodes ill for the Middle East

It is also thought that his lack of pragmatism and moderation could escalate delicate diplomacy efforts with the conflict in Syria and Yemen and the GCC crisis.

As Pompeo's prosective appointment coincides with that of other brash hardliners such as John Bolton as National Security Adviser and Gina Haspel as CIA director, time will tell if the US will be able to mend its fractious ties with the Middle East. 

Agencies contributed to this report.