The nomination was approved late on April 23 on a party-line vote, with all 11 Republicans backing him and nine Democrats opposed.
One Democrat, Chris Coons, voted “present” after previously announcing opposition to Pompeo, citing his concern that the hawkish CIA director might “embolden, rather than moderate or restrain” Trump’s “most belligerent and dangerous instincts.” Coons did not explain his vote switch.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell welcomed the committee’s approval and said there are enough votes in the full Senate to confirm Pompeo as secretary of state later this week. That would allow Pompeo to attend a NATO summit on April 27.
“The United States will have a chief diplomat who enjoys the total confidence of the president,” McConnell said.
Pompeo has become one of Trump’s most trusted advisers during his 15 months as CIA director. Most recently, he has been deeply involved in preparations for Trump’s summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, including meeting with the Korean leader three weeks ago.
While committee Democrats unanimously opposed Pompeo because they consider him too hawkish and worry about his past harsh statements about Islam, he has the support of at least three Democrats in the full Senate, and no Senate Republican has announced opposition. That means he is all but certain to be approved as the nation’s top diplomat.
The committee’s approval was in doubt for days, however, because of opposition from Republican Senator Rand Paul, who criticized Pompeo for advocating the U.S. war in Iraq. But Paul switched his vote to “yes” at the last minute before the April 23 vote after getting what he said were assurances from Pompeo that he now believes the Iraq war was a “mistake” that has “destabilized the region.”
Paul said Pompeo also told him he now also wants to end the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan.
Paul’s vote switch enabled Pompeo to avoid the embarrassment of being the first secretary of state nominee on record to be rejected by the committee.
Trump fired his first secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, last month, citing differences over key policy questions, including whether to continue honoring the Iran nuclear deal, Radio Liberty reported.