The Senate is about to hand Trump’s secretary of state pick an unprecedented rebuke — and it could threaten ‘the most dangerous geopolitical negotiations in recent memory’

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  • CIA Director Mike Pompeo, President Donald Trump’s nominee to be his next secretary of state, might not receive a positive recommendation from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Monday.
  • Pompeo would still get a vote in the entire Senate, but failing to get the blessing from the committee would be an unprecedented rebuke for a cabinet-level nominee.
  • Republicans are concerned that attempts to block Pompeo are particularly damaging to upcoming negotiations he would undertake as chief diplomat.

WASHINGTON – There is a growing concern among Republicans that Mike Pompeo will not receive a nod from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to serve as the next secretary of state, an unprecedented rebuke for such a high level position.

Pompeo, currently serving as director of the CIA, has faced an uphill battle throughout his confirmation process. Several Democrats who voted to confirm Pompeo to head the CIA have reversed their positions for him to be secretary of state.

Republicans have dismissed the reversals as political flip-flopping, while Democrats maintain there are stark differences between the characteristics required for chief spy and chief diplomat.

Pompeo himself made a visit to North Korea over Easter weekend, where he met with the reclusive nation’s supreme leader Kim Jong Un. Democrats putting barriers in the the way of Pompeo becoming secretary of state could put a damper on those upcoming negotiations, according to Republicans.

“[Pompeo] is already invested deeply in the upcoming summit between the president and Kim Jong Un,” Sen. Tom Cotton told reporters on phone call on Wednesday. “It would send a very bad sign and I believe would set back the preparations and perhaps even the results of that upcoming summit for the Senate Democrats to oppose as a block Mike Pompeo’s nomination to be secretary of state.”

If Pompeo’s nomination fails in the committee on Monday, he will still get a vote on the floor later in the week. But Republicans are concerned that an inability to shepherd him through the committee could signal weakness and lack of confidence as denuclearization negotiations with North Korea come into full swing.

“You wanna have your nominees come out of committee,” said Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner. “The hyper-partisanship that is blinding people to a good quality nominee is hurting this institution.”

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn told Business Insider that snubbing Pompeo “undercuts the country at a time when we need that leadership” and that the White House is “engaging in the most dangerous and fragile geopolitical negotiations in recent memory.”

“I’ve told [Pompeo] the only thing that matters is 50 votes,” said Sen. Bob Corker, who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee and is retiring from his Tennessee seat at the end of the year. “Then the next day you’re secretary of state so who cares.”

“It doesn’t look promising as far as an affirmative vote,” Corker added. “But there’s still steps the committee can take and I think that will be the case.”

But Democrats, Corker said, “In their heart of hearts, surely they’d rather have Pompeo sitting down with Mattis talking to the president about things like leaving Syria immediately or whatever than they would him not having a secretary of state.”

Rand Paul is the lone Republican holding out on Pompeo

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

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Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and CIA Director Mike Pompeo.
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One reason Pompeo could fail to receive a nod from the committee is opposition from Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky. Paul has been adamantly against Pompeo, but will be taking a meeting with him at the request of President Donald Trump.

“I’m glad he’s talking to him but I find it unseemly he’s doing this,” said South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham of Paul meeting with Pompeo. “This guy’s a qualified Republican. Rand Paul says he’s a Republican.”

Graham added that Paul needs to come to terms with the fact that Trump is “never gonna pick a libertarian” to serve as secretary of state.

Paul is likely to remain a “no” on Pompeo regardless of any meeting, according to the Republicans who work with him on the committee.

“I’ll leave that to the president,” Corker said of Paul’s ongoing negotiations. “I doubt anything changes there.”