WASHINGTON — U.S. Senator Chris Murphy on Wednesday reaffirmed his opposition to President Trump’s pick for secretary of state even as the White House argued that derailing CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s confirmation could jeopardize diplomatic efforts to end North Korea’s nuclear missile program.
Pompeo is facing a difficult confirmation in the Senate to succeed Rex Tillerson, whom Trump fired. He faced hostile questioning last week from Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, including from Murphy. And, as of Wednesday Pompeo did not have enough support among panel members for him to receive a favorable report to the full Senate.
On Tuesday, word spread that Pompeo had met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in preparation for a potential summit in the next few months between Trump and Kim Jong Un. On Wednesday morning, Trump confirmed via Twitter that the meeting had taken place.
“Mike Pompeo met with Kim Jong Un in North Korea last week. Meeting went very smoothly and a good relationship was formed. Details of Summit are being worked out now. Denuclearization will be a great thing for World, but also for North Korea!” Trump tweeted.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders retweeted the president’s statement and added: “Nothing could better underscore the importance of getting America’s top diplomat in place for such a time as this. Dems have an opportunity to put politics aside, acknowledge our national security is too important, and confirm Mike Pompeo. Statesmanship.”
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., on a Wednesday conference call with reporters conducted by the White House, suggested that blocking Pompeo’s confirmation could jeopardize talks aimed at dismantling Pyongyang’s nuclear program
“This is a good example of how critical it is on the merits to confirm Mike Pompeo. He’s already invested deeply in the upcoming summit between the president and Kim Jong Un,” Cotton said. “It would send a very bad sign and it would, I believe, set back the preparations and perhaps even the results of that upcoming summit.”
Murphy said Wednesday that he has “mixed feelings” about Pompeo’s meeting with Kim Jong Un, but stood behind his earlier opposition to his confirmation.
“I’ll also be voting no on Pompeo — both in committee — on the Foreign Relations Committee — and on the floor should it reach the floor,” he said.
As to the meeting, he expressed puzzlement that the CIA would be involved in negotiations that would precede a summit between the two leaders.
“This should be the mission of the State Department,” he said. “At the same time, I’ll just be honest with you, I’m glad there is someone at a high level in the Trump administration talking to the North Koreans about what may be the parameters of this meeting.”
Murphy said he is “deeply worried” that the summit, which could come in May or June, would be “for show,” allowing Trump to then “move to military options having given a try at diplomacy.”
“So, I was very worried there was going to be no pre-work done. I can say I’m not glad the CIA is doing it, but I’m glad someone is getting ready for this meeting,” Murphy said.
The disclosure that Pompeo met secretly with Kim Jong Un over the Easter weekend appears to have hurt Pompeo’s chances of getting any Democrats on the Foreign Relations Committee to support his confirmation. Republicans hold an 11-10 advantage but Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has already said he will vote against him.
New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the panel, raised concerns that Pompeo failed, in their recent private conversations, to disclose his trip to North Korea.
“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,” he said at a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank.
Delaware Senator Chris Coons is the only Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee who has yet to say how he plans to vote on Pompeo’s nomination. The panel is expected to consider his nomination next week. The other nine say they will oppose him.
Under Senate rules, if the nominee does not have support in the committee, the panel could report to the full Senate unfavorably or report without a recommendation. Pompeo’s confirmation also faces an uncertain future in the full Senate where Republicans hold a razor-thin majority. With an ailing Arizona Senator John McCain unlikely to return for a vote and Paul in opposition, Pompeo would need at least one Democrat to support him to win confirmation.