Pompeo Nears Confirmation but Faces Historic Rebuke From Committee

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will vote Monday on Mike Pompeo’s nomination to be the new secretary of state.

WASHINGTON — Mike Pompeo came close on Thursday to clinching confirmation as the nation’s 70th secretary of state when Senator Heidi Heitkamp, Democrat of North Dakota, announced her support. But before that triumph, he is expected to face a historic rebuke from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which most likely will not recommend his confirmation.

Ms. Heitkamp, who faces a difficult re-election fight in a state that President Trump won handily, said in a statement that Mr. Pompeo had convinced her that he would rebuild the State Department, which was seriously depleted under the previous secretary of state, Rex W. Tillerson.

“At a time of peril around the world, we need to exhaust all diplomatic options before sending the brave men and women of the armed forces into dangerous situations that could escalate out of control,” she said.

Ms. Heitkamp’s announcement is likely to push other moderate Democrats facing re-election in states that Mr. Trump won to follow suit. Many of those senators — including Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Claire McCaskill of Missouri — voted for Mr. Pompeo last year when he was confirmed to be C.I.A. director, and they are under renewed pressure at home to show they are willing to vote with Mr. Trump’s interests from time to time.

But before an expected full Senate vote, the Foreign Relations Committee — with 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats — is scheduled to vote on Mr. Pompeo’s nomination Monday evening. Senator Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, has said he will vote against Mr. Pompeo, and all 10 Democrats appear likely to do the same. The committee’s chairman, Senator Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee, has vowed to send Mr. Pompeo’s nomination to the full Senate anyway.

Still, a rejection would serve as yet another sign of the extraordinary level of partisan animosity now gripping Washington, and could bruise Mr. Pompeo’s standing as the nation’s top diplomat.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has never given a nominee for secretary of state anything but a favorable vote since the committee began considering nominees in the late 19th century, the Senate historian said on Thursday. And it has been almost 30 years since any cabinet nominee was reported with an unfavorable recommendation to the full Senate, a possible path for Mr. Pompeo.

“It has nothing to do with him,” Mr. Corker said, referring to the Democrats’ opposition to Mr. Pompeo. “I understand where they are. They feel like a vote for Pompeo is a proxy support for Trump.”

But even allies of the administration worry that the vote could taint Mr. Pompeo and undermine American diplomatic initiatives. In a telephone interview coordinated by the Trump administration, former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger said that a committee vote against confirmation “will wound him.” He urged senators to move quickly to confirm him.

“We cannot be without a secretary of state for very much longer,” he said.

Democrats say their opposition to Mr. Pompeo springs from more than just anti-Trump sentiment.

Mr. Pompeo first came to Mr. Trump’s attention in 2015 when, as a congressman from Kansas, he directed searing questions at Hillary Clinton during a hearing on the deadly 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya. Mr. Pompeo called Mrs. Clinton “morally reprehensible,” a charge that still rankles Democrats, particularly since he has faced nowhere near the scrutiny he demanded of Mrs. Clinton as C.I.A. officers have died under his leadership.

Mr. Pompeo’s ardent partisanship during his four terms in Congress did not endear him to Democrats. They also cite comments that have been called prejudiced against Muslims and lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender individuals.

But at his confirmation hearing last week, Mr. Pompeo presented himself in surprisingly moderate terms, promising to defend gay rights around the world, work to rescue the Iran nuclear deal and reverse the administration’s marginalization of American diplomats.

On Wednesday and Thursday, Mr. Pompeo continued a charm offensive intended to moderate his image and answer questions about a secret trip he made to North Korea to meet with its reclusive leader, news of which surfaced this week.

Beyond Ms. Heitkamp, he has yet to notch any clear wins from his campaign.

Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, the only Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee who has yet to formalize his opposition to Mr. Pompeo, said on Wednesday that he was inclined to vote against him in part because calls and emails coming into his office from constituents were running 50 to 1 against Mr. Pompeo.

Senator Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican and another member of the committee, said he had yet to make up his mind.

And Mr. Paul, who was one of the first senators to stake out his opposition to Mr. Pompeo’s nomination, said he was unmoved after his Thursday sit-down with Mr. Pompeo, despite Mr. Trump’s public assurances that Mr. Paul was a “very special guy” who had “never let me down.”

Mr. Paul, a libertarian-leaning Republican, has fretted that Mr. Pompeo will lead Mr. Trump toward a more interventionist foreign policy.

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