WASHINGTON -- U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp said Thursday, April 19, that she will vote to confirm CIA Director Mike Pompeo to serve as secretary of state.
He would replace Rex Tillerson, who left the State Department March 31 after apparent disagreements with the Trump Administration. Heitkamp also voted for Tillerson.
Heitkamp is the first Democrat to announce she will support Pompeo. Although a vote in the full Senate hasn’t been scheduled, Pompeo is facing a close vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee before his bid heads to the floor.
The panel is to vote on his nomination Monday, but with several committee Democrats and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., pledging to vote against Pompeo, his chances of securing the 21-member panel's favorable recommendation are slim.
Pompeo, a congressman from Kansas for six years before being named to head the CIA and who has made headlines in recent days for his secret trip to North Korea over Easter weekend, became CIA director last year with the support of 14 Senate Democrats. However, at least six of those Democrats - including the two who sit on the Foreign Relations Committee - have refused to back Pompeo as the nation's top diplomat.
To secure the committee's blessing, Pompeo will need at least one vote from the 10 Democrats on the 21-member panel because of Paul's opposition. It remains to be seen whether any more panel Republicans - in particular, Sen. Jeff Flake, Ariz., - also withhold their support.
Flake has refused to say whether he will back Pompeo's nomination but was emphatic Thursday that he was "still working on it" and was not ready to support him.
The committee can still send Pompeo's nomination to the Senate floor for a vote with an unfavorable recommendation if only a minority of panel members support it. But Pompeo risks becoming the first secretary of state nominee in almost a century not to gain a favorable committee recommendation before advancing to the floor.
In supporting Pompeo, Heitkamp said he “demonstrated during this nomination process and during our meeting in March that he is committed to empowering the diplomats at the State Department so they can do their jobs in advancing American interests,” said Heitkamp. “At a time of peril around the world, we need to exhaust all diplomatic options before sending the brave men and women of the armed forces into dangerous situations that could escalate out of control.”
Heitkamp has pressed the administration to fill key positions that will aid in the diplomatic and military components of a comprehensive strategy to deal with North Korea. In a 2017 letter, she urged the president to appoint a special envoy to the Korean Peninsula, and to fill key positions such as ambassador to South Korea and top Asia-related positions at the Defense and State Departments.
Heitkamp has supported about 90 percent of Trump nominees, including voting for Justice Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court, her office said Thursday.
Meanwhile, in an email late Thursday, North Dakota members of MoveOn.org said they are asking Heitkamp to resconsider her decision to support Pompeo.
“Pompeo has repeatedly made statements and tweets indicating that he favors dangerous, costly, and unnecessary military action by the U.S. military,” said Brett Abrams of MoveOn. “Many senators and foreign policy experts have raised concern that if Pompeo is confirmed, he would become part of a broader Trump ‘war cabinet’ that will increase the risk of Trump starting a war with Iran, North Korea, or elsewhere.”
Abrams said there are thousands of members in the organization in North Dakota. Nationwide, he said members have made over 13,000 calls to ask senators to oppose Pompeo’s nomination.
The Washington Post contributed to this story