CIA Director Mike Pompeo assured senators Thursday at his confirmation hearing for U.S. secretary of state that he would make defending the United States his top priority.
“Senators, if confirmed, I would raise my hand and swear an oath to defend our Constitution for the seventh time in my life—the first time as an 18-year-old West Point cadet,” Pompeo vowed in opening remarks before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“With this oath, I would commit to defend the exceptionalism enshrined in our Constitution, which provides for our obligation to engage in diplomacy and model the very best of America to the world,” he told lawmakers.
An Uphill Battle?
Pompeo went into Thursday’s hearing facing an uphill battle in many respects.
Sen. Rand Paul, R.-Kentucky, and most Democratic senators have said they won’t support his confirmation.
With Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, away from Washington battling brain cancer, at least one Democrat will be needed to join Republicans for Pompeo to be approved.
Pompeo is known as a close ally of Trump. The commander in chief has requested in-person intelligence briefings from Pompeo several times a week during his time as CIA director, and Pompeo often accompanies Trump to other meetings during the day after the briefings.
With that in mind, Democratic lawmakers like Sen. Bob Menendez sought assurances from Pompeo that he would be able to move beyond partisan politics rather than “enable President Trump’s worst instincts.”
“Will you be working from crisis to crisis?” Menendez pressed. “Will you stand up to President Trump to say no, or will you be a yes man?”
But Pompeo suggested his closeness to the president would be an asset, not a liability.
“My relationship with President Trump is due to one thing: We’ve demonstrated value to him at the CIA. So, in turn, he has come to rely on us,” Pompeo said. “I intend to ensure that the Department of State will be just as central to the president’s policies and the national security of the United States.”
Leaving no stone unturned, Menendez also grilled Pompeo on conversations he’s had with the president regarding special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Specifically, the Democratic lawmaker asked about a 2017 Washington Post story that claimed the president called on his top official to intervene in the probe.
“Senator, I don’t recall. I don’t recall what he asked me that day, precisely,” Pompeo replied, adding that Trump “has never asked me to do anything remotely that I consider improper.”
Pompeo on North Korea, Iran
The CIA chief was also peppered with questions regarding his personal views on national security policies, particularly as they relate to North Korea and Iran.
Regarding the controversial Iran nuclear deal, Pompeo refused to say definitively whether or not he would advise the president to pull out of the agreement.
“It depends, clearly, if we’re close,” said Pompeo, who was one of the most outspoken critics of the accord.
“Imagine we’re close to achieving the fix that the president has asked the State Department to achieve?”
“I want to fix this deal,” he added. “That’s the objective. I think that’s in the best interests of (the United States).”
Lawmakers also touched on the upcoming meeting between Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.
While Pompeo admitted it’s unlikely that any comprehensive deal would be reached, he expressed optimism that the meeting would “set us down the course to achieve a diplomatic outcome that America and the world so desperately need.”
Pompeo Hammered on Muslim, LGBT Record
In the past, Democrats have taken a dim view of Pompeo’s stance on various issues, attacking him for what they call his anti-Muslim and anti-LGBT rhetoric. Thursday was no exception.
Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, went after Pompeo over his claims that Muslims have a special obligation to denounce extremism and that gays should not be permitted to marry.
“Do you believe gay sex is a perversion, yes or no?” Booker asked the CIA chief.
But Pompeo, a devout Christian known for his Christian beliefs and willingness to speak publicly against abortion, was unapologetic.
“When I was a politician, I had a very clear view on whether it was appropriate for two same-sex persons to marry. I stand by that position,” Pompeo told the New Jersey Democrat.
He did, however, cite his professional record as proof that he treats everyone with respect, regardless of their religion, gender or sexual orientation.
“I believe it’s the case we have married gay couples at the CIA. You should know I treated them with the exact same set of rights,” he said.
Pompeo was confirmed for his current CIA job with a 66-32 vote.
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