US: Senator Menendez to vote against Pompeo as secretary of state

Pompeo can still be confirmed by the full Senate without the committee’s support

WASHINGTON: US Senator Robert Menendez, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said on Wednesday he would oppose President Donald Trump’s nomination of CIA Director Mike Pompeo as secretary of state, in a blow to the nomination.

Menendez criticised the Trump administration, and Pompeo in particular, for lacking a strategic vision across the foreign policy spectrum.

“I believe our nation’s top diplomat must be forthright, and more critically his past sentiments did not reflect our nation’s values and are not acceptable for our nation’s top diplomat,” Menendez said in a speech at a Washington think tank.

“Which is why … I’ll be casting a ‘no’ vote for Director Pompeo to be our secretary of state,” he said.

Pompeo, the CIA director, did not tell him about his recently disclosed visit to North Korea even though they were discussing the topic during a meeting, Menendez told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Menendez said the nominee also was not forthcoming when he questioned him about the federal investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to sway the 2016 presidential election.

If Pompeo were to win strong bipartisan support in the Foreign Relations Committee and the full US. Senate, it would send a message that Trump’s new secretary of state had the support of Congress as well as the president.

But lawmakers who oppose Pompeo think he is too hawkish to be the top US diplomat and too ideologically conservative — he opposes gay marriage and has had ties to anti-Muslim organisations — to represent the country on the world stage.

Pompeo can still be confirmed by the full Senate without the committee’s support.

However, he would be the first secretary of state nominee, at least since such votes were made public in 1925, not to win the panel’s backing, weakening him as he goes into the job even if he is confirmed. And even his backers say they expect he would at best be confirmed by a narrow margin.

One committee Republican — Senator Rand Paul — has said he opposes Pompeo, so he would need the backing of at least one Democrat to get a majority of votes on the committee, which has 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats.

At least seven other committee Democrats have already announced they oppose Pompeo, and none has announced support.

Every committee Democrat also opposed the nomination of Trump’s first secretary of state, Rex Tillerson.

Trump nominated Pompeo, with whom he had developed a rapport during his year leading the CIA, as secretary of state last month when he abruptly fired Tillerson, the former Exxon Mobil chief executive.

Tillerson had been secretary of state for just over a year.

He often seemed to differ with Trump on foreign policy matters, and was criticised by members of Congress for failing to work with them closely enough.

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