Donald Trump’s new appointments in the wake of Rex Tillerson’s firing may run into a filibuster — and not from Democrats. Rand Paul (R-KY) ripped the nominations of Mike Pompeo to State and Gina Haspel as Pompeo’s replacement, and accused Trump of succumbing to the neocon swamp. “I can’t support people who never understood America First,” Paul declared in a statement this afternoon:
“What I liked about candidate Trump was his strong condemnation of the Iraq War. I believe President Trump has done a great job, and I continue to support him, but I cannot endorse his nomination of people who loved the Iraq War so much that they want an Iran War next. Director Pompeo has not learned the lessons of regime change and wants regime change in Iran.
“I can’t support people who never understood America First and want to manipulate the President into the sphere of the neocons who never met a war they didn’t want to star in.
“President Trump sought to break with the foreign policy mistakes of the last two administrations. Yet now he picks for Secretary of State and CIA Director people who embody them, defend them, and, I’m afraid, will repeat them. I will not support their nominations.”
If Paul’s unhappy now, just wait until Trump picks John Bolton to replace H.R. McMaster. We’ll have Paul muttering about neocons in his sleep, if he’s not already. Anyway, Paul committed himself to obstruction on both nominees, but so far hasn’t used the F-word:
Paul announced Wednesday that he will “do everything I can to block” Mike Pompeo’s nomination to be Secretary of State or Gina Haspel’s nomination to lead the nation’s spy agency. …
He also openly wondered how Haspel, once in charge of a notorious CIA “black site” where suspects were waterboarded, could be considered to run the agency.
“It’s galling to read of her glee during the waterboarding,” Paul said. “It’s absolutely appalling.”
He may not need to use a filibuster to block the nominees, especially for Pompeo. Paul has a seat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which will vote on whether to recommend Pompeo for confirmation as Secretary of State. If all SFRC Democrats vote against Pompeo, Paul’s nay would mean that the recommendation would fail by one vote. Mitch McConnell could still bring Pompeo’s nomination to the floor anyway, but it will still be an embarrassment to the White House.
How likely is that to happen, though? Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer says he’s not going to urge opposition to either Pompeo or Haspel in the Democratic caucus. Schumer has hopes that Pompeo’s selection at State will push Trump to get tougher with Russia, a point on which Schumer says Tillerson was a disappointment. That, of course, won’t make Paul any happier, but Pompeo has built strong credibility at CIA and in his House Intelligence leadership, which means that a few SFRC Democrats will likely vote to advance the nomination, and more than a few Senate Democrats will vote for confirmation. Pompeo won confirmation at CIA by a 66-32 vote, and Paul opposed Pompeo at that time, too. He’s likely to cruise to State as well, regardless of what Paul thinks, and he’s unlikely to get enough votes to keep talking long enough for a confirmation vote.
Haspel is a different story. Paul doesn’t have a seat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, so he can’t block her from getting a recommendation for confirmation. The other Republicans on the SIC are mainly hawks who want to see a career officer like Haspel rise to the top. Ranking member Dianne Feinstein has issued a cautiously supportive statement on Haspel’s nomination, although she cautioned it was not a commitment for an aye on confirmation.
When Haspel comes to floor, though John McCain may partner up with Rand Paul to block her confirmation in a kind of Odd Couple arrrangement. McCain has made clear that he’s already not happy with Haspel over her involvement in previous CIA use of harsh interrogation methods. That issue which will likely prevent other Democrats (than Feinstein, maybe) to cross over, not even for the prospect of confirming the first female CIA director. Without McCain and Paul, McConnell only has 49 votes in his caucus for confirmation. If Thad Cochran’s temporary replacement hasn’t yet arrived, that’s another potential vote loss.
Unless red-state Democratic incumbents feel the need to establish their independence, Haspel’s nomination looks very shaky. Voting for Pompeo might be independence enough for people like Joe Manchin and Heidi Heitkamp, too. The only way Haspel gets through is probably by completely denouncing the “enhanced interrogation techniques” that she helped implement, and that might not make her very popular with a president that has at times endorsed their return.