Sen. Ben Cardin joins Democrats in opposing Mike Pompeo as Trump's new secretary of state

Associated Press

U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin announced Wednesday that he opposes the nomination of CIA director Mike Pompeo to serve as President Donald Trump’s next secretary of state.

The Maryland Democrat, a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, thanked Pompeo for his service in the military, in Congress and as CIA director. But Cardin expressed concern over Pompeo’s past statements about Muslims and the LGBT community.

Those statements, Cardin said in a statement, “make it challenging for him to represent our country to the world and oversee our smart power arsenal.”

“After meeting with Mr. Pompeo and reviewing his testimony, I do not believe he would be an independent voice in advising @POTUS, nor an advocate for leading our allies in support of the values that protect America. I will not be supporting his nomination to be Secretary of State,” Cardin wrote on Twitter.

Cardin joined other Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in opposing Pompeo’s nomination. Pompeo is facing so much opposition from Democrats on the committee that the panel could be forced to take the unusual step of sending the nomination to the full Senate without a favorable recommendation.

Democratic Sens. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Tim Kaine of Virginia announced their opposition to Pompeo this week. Both had supported him as CIA director last year.

Pompeo is still expected to have enough votes in the full Senate to replace Rex Tillerson, who was fired by Trump.

Maryland’s other senator, Chris Van Hollen, who does not serve on the Foreign Relations Committee, announced his opposition last week.

“Mike Pompeo’s positions on countless issues stand in direct contrast to the very mission of the State Department,” Van Hollen said in a statement. “From his positions on the Iran nuclear agreement, to refugees, to torture, he has shown he is fundamentally averse to diplomacy and lacks the skills needed for our chief diplomat.”

As committee support peels away, Pompeo’s confirmation might come down to a handful of senators.

The backlash ahead of the panel’s vote is a rare rebuke for such a high-profile Cabinet pick, and sets Pompeo on a potentially uneven path for the new job.

“I continue to have deep concerns regarding Mr. Pompeo's past statements and policy views, particularly in regards to the LGBTQ community, American Muslims and women's reproductive rights,” Shaheen said in a statement, after calling the former Kansas congressman Tuesday to tell him she would be opposed.

A sign of the important role Pompeo plays in the Trump administration: The CIA director traveled to North Korea for a secret meeting with leader Kim Jong Un , two U.S. official say. The meeting was held as U.S. and North Korean officials plan a summit between Trump and Kim. The officials spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to discuss the trip publicly.

The Senate panel has rarely failed to back a White House nominee for secretary of state.

Republicans have a narrow Senate majority, which gives them a single-vote advantage on the panel.

But with stiff opposition from Democrats — and at least one Republican, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, opposed — the committee might have few other options when it convenes as soon as next week.

“We’ll see,” said the committee’s chairman, Sen. Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican.

Under Senate rules, if the nominee does not have support in the committee, the panel could report to the full Senate unfavorably, which would send a strong rebuke to the White House, or simply report without a recommendation. It also could take no action.

Senators submitted more than 100 questions for the nominee after his initial hearing, and many are waiting for responses.

Trump initially tapped Pompeo as CIA director, one of his first Cabinet nominees in 2017, and they became close allies.

Pompeo is having a tougher path as the nominee for secretary of state over his hawkish foreign policy views and comments about minorities, having suggested that Muslims should denounce extremism and that gay people should not be able to marry.

During his confirmation hearing last week, Pompeo told senators it’s unlikely he’d resign if Trump fired special counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Of the more than a dozen Democrats who supported Pompeo's nomination as CIA director in 2017, at least four, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California and Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii, now oppose his nomination for State.

“The Secretary of State is a very different role than CIA director, and it’s not the kind of position you learn on the job,” Feinstein said in a statement Tuesday. “I sense a certain disdain for diplomacy in Mike Pompeo that I believe disqualifies him from being our next senior diplomat.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Doug Donovan contributed to this article.

ddonovan@baltsun.com

twitter.com/dougdonovan

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