Pompeo’s Fate Ultimately Lies In McConnell’s Hands

Robert Donachie | Capitol Hill and Health Care Reporter

Senate Democrats and one of their hawkish Republican colleagues are looking to shoot down and out of the committee President Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of state, but the fate of the nomination truly lies with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) are slated to vote Monday evening on CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s nomination to take over for former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

The SFRC is currently comprised of 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats. Every Democrat on the panel has committed to voting against Pompeo’s nomination, which wouldn’t necessarily be a complete rebuke of Trump’s pick if all Republican members voted in favor. But that isn’t likely to be case.

Kentucky GOP Sen. Rand Paul is also going to vote against Pompeo, putting the expected final SFRC tally at 11-10 against Pompeo’s nomination.

Modern precedent has it that a cabinet nominee is pushed aside if they aren’t able to make it out of committee. There hasn’t been a nominee who made it to a Senate floor vote after getting nixed out of committee in nearly 30 years.

Things are getting even more unprecedented when it comes to the secretary of the state position. Since the SFRC began considering secretary of state nominations well over 100 years ago, it has never given a nominee an unfavorable vote. Put bluntly, Pompeo would be the first nominee to ever get a thumbs down out of committee — a scenario resembling a virtual guarantee unless something changes in the final 24 hours leading up the vote.

McConnell doesn’t have to go along with precedent. He can put Pompeo’s nomination up for a vote before the entire Senate body as early as next week. There is no law or procedural rule barring the majority leader from calling a vote on a nominee a committee voted against.

Pompeo would ultimately clear in a floor vote, Senate Republicans believe. They consensus belief is Senate Democrats up for reelection in states Trump won in 2016 will give Pompeo a thumbs up, giving Trump’s nominee enough of a boon to get confirmed.

The most contentious secretary of state confirmation vote in recent memory was former President George W. Bush’s choice, Condoleezza Rice, who cleared the Senate with an 85-13 vote. Both of former President Barack Obama’s choices cleared with 94 senators voting in favor.

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