January 22, 2017
Senate Democrats resisted entreaties from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to vote on Rep. Mike Pompeo’s nomination to become CIA director late Friday, punting the vote to Monday.
The move will leave the nation’s top intelligence agency without a leader over the weekend because former CIA director John Brennan and his deputy David Cohen formally departed when President Obama left office Friday.
The Senate Friday evening quickly approved Gen. James Mattis for defense secretary and Gen. John Kelly for homeland security secretary by wide margins. But Democrats blocked efforts to include Pompeo in the group confirmed on Trump’s first day in office. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., cited concerns over the way Pompeo answered surveillance questions during his hearing.
But even top Democrat leaders concede that Pompeo’s nomination is largely non-controversial and is set to sail through Monday with wide bipartisan support.
“It makes no sense to leave this post open — not for another week, another day, another hour,” McConnell said. “America’s enemies won’t stop planning, plotting and training just because the Democrats refused to vote.”
After setting quick votes for Mattis and Kelly, McConnell said the Senate would begin debate on Pompeo’s nomination Friday evening and hoped it would wrap up later tonight. But Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer indicated he had no intention of trying to force Wyden to back down from his opposition to moving Pompeo’s appointment Friday night.
Senate Democrat whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., reminded Republicans that GOP lawmakers refused to consider President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, for nearly a year, and “sat on” Loretta Lynch’s nomination to be attorney general for “a year or more.”
Democrats’ refusal to vote on Pompeo angered Sen. John McCain, the GOP chairman of the Armed Services Committee.
“Why the hell won’t we just go ahead and give the president his national security team when we need it more than at anytime in recent history,” McCain asked. “The American people have spoken about who they want to be commander in chief. Now let’s give them his secretary of defense, homeland security” secretary and leader of the CIA.
McCain said transition periods between presidents are particularly vulnerable time periods and said the U.S. is more threatened than at any time in the past 70 years.
Wyden countered that the senior career officials at the CIA are fully capable of operating the agency for a few days in Pompeo’s absence.
The Oregon Democrat, a senior member of the Intelligence Committee, said he is concerned about a past Pompeo proposal, which he said would collect “lifestyle information” on Americans. “We are trying to find out if there are any legal boundaries at all,” Wyden said.
Democrats, he said, believe there should be a Senate debate on Pompeo in “broad daylight, not when senators are trying to figure whether their tux is going to fit,” he said, referring to senators’ attendance at inauguration balls Friday night.