Pompeo clears Senate panel, on track for confirmation

In a surprise, Secretary of State nominee Mike Pompeo cleared the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Monday evening.

It looked like Pompeo would not be reported favorably out of the committee until just a few minutes before the panel met. Then, Republican Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) changed his mind.

With all committee Democrats opposed to Pompeo, Paul’s opposition would have given Pompeo a negative recommendation.

But just before 5 p.m. Monday, Paul said he received the assurances he was looking for to support Pompeo.

“After calling continuously for weeks for Director Pompeo to support President Trump’s belief that the Iraq war was a mistake, and that it is time to leave Afghanistan, today I received confirmation the Director Pompeo agrees with @realDonaldTrump,” Paul tweeted.

Still some drama: 

Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) was absent Monday to deliver a eulogy for a friend. Senate rules say a majority of those present is needed to favorably report a nominee out of committee, meaning Pompeo would have been unfavorably reported by a 10-10 vote.

Noting the historic nature of unfavorably reporting a secretary of State nominee, committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) implored a Democrat to vote “present” instead or else said the committee would reconvene at 11 p.m. when Isakson returned.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), noting his opposition to Pompeo was already recorded and Isakson’s emotionally difficult day, obliged and voted present to allow Pompeo to go to the Senate floor.

What now: 

The drama over Pompeo’s confirmation appears to have deflated.

In addition to Monday’s committee vote, more centrist Democrats came out in support of Pompeo, giving him more than enough votes to pass the full Senate.

Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) said they would vote for Pompeo. They join Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), giving Pompeo at least three Democratic votes.

Even before Paul’s flip, Pompeo only needed one Democrat to support him to be confirmed.

With Paul now a yes, the Democrats are icing.

Why it still matters:

Even though Pompeo has the votes to be confirmed, he’s set to receive an unusual number of no votes for a secretary of State.

For example, John Kerry was confirmed 94–3, Hillary Clinton by 94–2, Condoleezza Rice by 85–13 and Colin Powell by voice vote.

The opposition to Pompeo is indicative of the political divide in the United States. But, because he’ll be the top diplomat, that vote could also send a signal to the world.

Trump administration officials and Republicans, though, have been dismissive of the idea that weak support for Pompeo sends a bad signal about American diplomacy.

“I think what it says to the world is what we’ve been saying for a long time, is the Senate has got some real problems and they need to figure out how to actually show up and do their job a little bit better,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday of the possibility Pompeo could have been voted against in committee.

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