(CNSNews.com) – The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Monday evening voted narrowly to send Mike Pompeo’s secretary of state nomination to the Senate floor, after Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) dropped his opposition, saying he was assured that the CIA director had learned the lesson that Mideast regime change has been “a mistake.”
Voting along party lines, the committee then voted 11-10 in favor of the nomination – an unusual occurrence for a presidential nomination that traditionally wins strong committee support.
There followed some dispute since Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) had voted “aye” in proxy for Sen. Johnny Isakson (Ga.), who was absent to deliver a eulogy at his best friend’s funeral.
Democrats raised a procedural issue, and Corker then offered to keep the meeting open for another five hours, to enable another vote after Isakson’s return. He also suggested that if one Democrat, despite having already opposed the nomination, voted “present” rather than “no,” that would make a late-night vote unnecessary.
Sen. Chris Coons (D-Dela.), who had been the last Democrat on the panel to voice his opposition to Pompeo’s nomination, agreed to do so.
“I am recorded as voting against Mike Pompeo for secretary of state but I will vote ‘present’ to allow him to move forward now without us having to wait until 11 o’ clock at night,” he said. “I’ve spoken to Johnny, I know how very demanding and draining this eulogy was for him today. I will vote ‘present.’”
Corker, looking visibly moved, said “that is what I would have expected,” and thanked Coons “for being a statesman.”
The nomination was then voted out of committee by 11-9.
Prefacing his surprising reversal in Monday’s committee meeting, Paul spoke – as he frequently does – about the lessons of the Iraq war and regime change in the Middle East. In that context, he also pointed to the situation in Libya, and noted that many have called for the toppling of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Paul said President Trump has for years repeatedly declared that “the Iraq war was a mistake.”
“The president understood this, and my fear has always been that Director Pompeo doesn’t share that point of view. I asked him here [during the nomination hearing] and he said, ‘Oh it’s a long time ago,’ but I’ve talked to him again and again and again, and I’ve talked to the president again and again and again. And what I hear from the president is, no-one’s changing his mind. Many of these wars were ill-advised, and his goal is really to get us out of many of these wars.”
“That’s a goal I share,” Paul continued. “And so I actually want Trump to be Trump. I want people around him who actually will give him the advice and not try to persuade him that perpetual war is the answer to things.”
Paul said Pompeo has assured him “that he does understand that the Iraq war was a mistake.”
He said he had also been given assurances relating to his concerns about surveillance and Fourth Amendment protections.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said he could not vote to support a nominee for the nation’s top diplomatic position who believes military action is preferable to diplomacy, “who thinks regime change should be an instrument of foreign policy.”
“Many people oppose – and find reason to oppose, legitimate reason to oppose – the regimes in Iran and North Korea. I know of very few who say it should be official U.S. policy to change those regimes,” he said.
“This is the chief diplomat. He has urged us to back out of U.S. diplomatic commitments, both the Paris [climate] accords and the Iran [nuclear] deal.”
Trump’s nominee is now expected to be narrowly approved by the full Senate, after Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) on Monday became the second Democrat to endorse him.
“After meeting with Mike Pompeo, discussing his foreign policy perspectives, & considering his distinguished time as CIA Director & his exemplary career in public service, I will vote to confirm Mike Pompeo to be our next Secretary of State,” Manchin tweeted.
Last week, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) announced her support for Pompeo.
Republicans hold 51 of the Senate’s 100 seats.
Secretary of state nominees in recent administrations have won confirmation easily. The Senate voted 94-3 in favor of John Kerry, 94-2 for Hillary Clinton, 85-13 for Condoleezza Rice, and 99-0 for Madeleine Albright. Colin Powell and Warren Christopher were confirmed by unanimous voice vote.
“Hard to believe Obstructionists May vote against Mike Pompeo for Secretary of State,” Trump tweeted earlier Monday. “The Dems will not approve hundreds of good people, including the Ambassador to Germany. They are maxing out the time on approval process for all, never happened before. Need more Republicans!”