When Cocaine Mitch comes calling, who can just say no? Mitch McConnell has the perfect candidate in mind to replace Pat Roberts, who announced his retirement from the Senate two weeks ago. There’s just one wee problem — he’s currently working for Donald Trump in a key position:
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has personally courted Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to consider running for an open Senate seat in Kansas, according to people familiar with the effort, a move that could anger President Trump and further roil his tumultuous Cabinet.
Senate GOP leaders have been so dedicated to recruiting Pompeo that McConnell directly urged him to consider it in a recent telephone call, according to two people familiar with the conversation, which has not been previously reported.
The retirement of Roberts leaves the GOP in a precarious position in 2020. Kansas just narrowly elected a Democratic governor in the midterms, and Republicans lost KS-03 as well. McConnell needs a solid candidate to take the reins for the Senate race in a state that might be trending a bit purple, smack dab in their Midwestern power base. Otherwise, the effort and cash needed to raise up a relative unknown will distract from other Senate races where the GOP can expect to be vulnerable in a cycle where they will defend several more seats than Democrats — a reversal of the 2018 dynamic.
Pompeo would solve many of those problems. His tenure at CIA and at State has provided Pompeo a high profile, and a largely positive one. His work on North Korea in particular has given Pompeo the allure of statesmanship, which might be the very quality that a Republican will need in a state threatening to shift away from deep-red status. Pompeo will get his two-year service badge in Trump’s administration at the end of this month, although he’s only been at State for nine months.
This might be an attractive option for Pompeo, too. Currently the State Department is among the agencies impacted by the shutdown, and Trump has been stingy with State for a while. According to AFSA, there are still dozens of vacancies in the ambassadorial ranks, including critical postings such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, and Qatar that have never been filled. Pompeo seems to get pretty decent treatment from Trump and from the media in comparison to other Cabinet members, but it’s tough to say how long that will last.
Trump might not like the idea much, but McConnell may not care:
Trump does not want to lose Pompeo and sees him as his favorite Cabinet member, according to two people familiar with his thinking. It was unclear whether he was aware of the conversation between McConnell and Pompeo. A White House representative did not immediately respond late Thursday to a request for comment. …
McConnell and Trump have had a roller-coaster relationship during the past two years. It turned bad after the failed Republican attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. But it improved after the GOP passed a sweeping tax bill.
Tensions flared between Pompeo and Senate Republicans in 2016 when Pompeo stoked talk of a primary challenge by criticizing Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), but the relationship appears to be more cordial now. McConnell called Pompeo a “brilliant, tough-minded leader” when Trump nominated him. And Mary Elizabeth Taylor, the assistant secretary for legislative affairs for the State Department, is a former McConnell aide.
If Pompeo declines, McConnell’s options become more limited. The best of them would be ACU chair Matt Schlapp, who will probably be the candidate Trump pushes as another option. Schlapp’s wife Mercedes Schlapp works in the Trump White House’s communications group already, and Matt has a wide range of political contacts in and out of Washington. Schlapp’s a better option than Kris Kobach, who just lost that statewide gubernatorial election, and better known than others mentioned in the Post’s report. If Pompeo doesn’t bite, look to Schlapp next.