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Sen. Rand Paul reverses stance in last-minute drama over Mike Pompeo

Mike Pompeo, President Trump's nominee to be the next secretary of state, faced an uncertain confirmation vote Monday. But moments before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted to recommend Pompeo to the full Senate, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, the lone Republican holdout on the committee, changed his mind. Lisa Desjardins joins Amna Nawaz to explain.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    President Trump's nominee to be the next secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, squeaked through a key committee vote tonight, this after several dramatic turns in just the last hour.

    Our Capitol Hill correspondent, Lisa Desjardins, is here to explain.

    Lisa, some drama at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Right.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    What exactly happened?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    This was a pivotal vote because there was a real question as to whether Mike Pompeo had the votes to get out of committee.

    Going into the meeting that started at 5:00 Eastern time, just the last hour-and-a-half, Rand Paul was a no, a Republican no. Minutes before the meeting, he said he had flipped his vote.

    And said the reason why is a phone call from President Trump, which convinced him that he thought Mike Pompeo would be on his side.

    Here's a tweet from Mr. Paul. He wrote, "I have decided to support his nomination to be our next secretary of state."

    As you know, Rand Paul is anti-interventionist. He said he was worried that Mike Pompeo would put more troops and would not be enough of a diplomat. He said he got guarantees that swayed him the other way.

    So, we thought, great, Mike Pompeo, now we know what's going to happen. He's going to make it through committee. No.

    It turns out that another Republican, Johnny Isakson, wasn't in the committee today. They needed his vote, but he was speaking at a memorial service.

    All this — let's just cut to the chase — led to a very strange case where the committee chairman, Bob Corker, Amna, had to turn to Democrats and ask them, will one of you vote present, even though you oppose this nominee, so that we can move forward without having a late vote tonight?

    That Democrat who did that was Chris Coons of Delaware. He said he will do it out of respect for his Senate colleague, senator from Georgia, Senator Isakson.

    So, very strange things, but, bottom line, we now have a favorable vote, which was not what we expected this morning, coming out of committee from Mike Pompeo. He moves to the full Senate floor with the wind behind him.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, let's talk a little bit about the basis for that opposition was in the first place, because it was a largely partisan split, right, Rand Paul lining up with the Democrats.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Where were they digging in?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Right, on several issues.

    One, from the senator — the ranking Democrat on the committee, Bob Menendez. He said that Mike Pompeo has said two different things at different times. Is he for human rights or is he against gay rights? Mike Pompeo has said that he doesn't support gay marriage, for instance.

    There are questions also of how much he supports diplomacy. That's where Virginia Senator Kaine came out. He said, I don't think this is a real diplomat. Mike Pompeo has said, no, I do believe diplomacy first. But Democrats say they didn't buy it.

    Now, there's also charges against Democrats that they're being political here, because no one has questioned Mike Pompeo's qualifications for the job. He's a West Point graduate. He's the CIA director. He served in the House of Representatives. He has President Trump's ear.

    So there are questions of, was this political or not? Democrats say, no, we just don't trust the direction this man would take the State Department.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, he moves ahead to the full Senate floor without the little asterisk next to his name, right? He's got the recommendation going in.

    Is it as clear a partisan battle when it goes to the full Senate vote?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Not quite as partisan.

    There are three Democrats now, two new today, who will be voting yes for this man. Let's look at those names, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Joe Donnelly of Indiana, all yes votes for Mike Pompeo, breaking with the rest of their party.

    Gee, what do those three have in common? They have got a date with the voters in November, and they are all in states that voted for President Trump. And there could be other Democrats that vote yes as well.

    I think Mr. Pompeo will probably get somewhere between 52 and 55 votes on the floor, more than Betsy DeVos, less than Rex Tillerson.

    But I think this all shows drama could continue. We expect him to make it out of the Senate by the end of the week. And that's important, because there is a NATO summit for foreign ministers in Brussels on Friday. They are hoping that he can make it to that.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Lisa Desjardins with the drama from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today.

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