Confirm Pompeo

Column: The president deserves his excellent choice for secretary of state

Mike Pompeo
Mike Pompeo / Getty Images
April 20, 2018

What on earth are the Democrats doing? President Trump has nominated CIA director Mike Pompeo, eminently qualified by any reasonable standard, to be America's seventieth secretary of state. And yet the Senate Democrats, led by Chuck Schumer, have perverted the advice and consent clause of the Constitution into a license to obstruct this solid nominee for one of the most important cabinet offices. The Democratic rationales for opposition are neither consistent nor compelling. But the party is heedlessly and recklessly trying to capsize the nomination anyway, without giving second thought to the potential consequences of its actions. If this doesn't count as a symptom of Trump derangement syndrome, I don't know what does.

In the coming months, President Trump will have to deal with the fallout from his strike on Syria, the growing conflict between Israel and Iran, the future of the Iran nuclear agreement, Chinese belligerence toward Taiwan, the planned summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, and whatever unexpected international crises that erupt. Even if you accept the critique of Trump as someone who has no fixed worldview, little in the way of principle, and is dangerously enamored of the "madman" theory of strategic ambiguity, you would therefore want him, it seems to me, to be surrounded by personnel who are experienced, knowledgeable, capable, and steadfast—individuals who can serve as ballast, who can tether the president to geopolitical reality.

The slightest glance at Pompeo's official biography is enough to confirm that he is such a man. How many senators, Republican or Democrat, graduated at the top of their class at West Point, served as a cavalry officer, graduated from Harvard Law School and edited the Harvard Law Review, then went on to become a successful businessman? These are precisely the qualities that led the Senate in January 2017 to confirm Pompeo as CIA director in a bipartisan 66-32 vote.

A position in which, by the high standards of administration critics, Pompeo has excelled. "When it came to representing the judgments of the CIA, he was scrupulous," former CIA director Michael Hayden, no friend of Trump's, said recently. "I've seen no indication whatsoever that he's done anything but fairly describe what it is his analysts believe to be true and that includes the hypercharged, politically sensitive third-rail issue of what the Russians did in 2016."

So Pompeo is credentialed, succeeded in a tough position, and represented intelligence straightforwardly to President Trump. And yet none of this is enough for the Democrats, including those who supported Pompeo's nomination for CIA director, for the specious reason that the president shouldn't have a secretary of state who agrees with him. The Senate Democrats are operating under the assumption that it is disqualifying for a nominee to hold views shared by the duly elected president and majorities in both houses of Congress. They say Pompeo is too hawkish, despite his personal meeting with Kim Jong Un. Or they say Pompeo is dishonest for not revealing to them his classified visit to North Korea. Or they attack Pompeo for holding the same position on same-sex marriage as Barack Obama circa 2012. Or they worry that Pompeo is too worried about Islamism, and not worried enough about climate change. Next they'll complain that he's never donated to Planned Parenthood.

Yes, it's true: Mike Pompeo is not a liberal Democrat. Knock me over with a feather.

Of course, the real reason Democrats are circling the wagons against this nomination has nothing to do with Pompeo's politics. It's because the Democrats recognize the political weakness of the Trump administration ahead of the midterm elections and want to cripple it further. But have they paused for a moment to consider what might happen if their wish is granted and Pompeo is not confirmed? Who do they think Trump will nominate then? Lena Dunham?

More likely, Trump, as he has done in other areas of the bureaucracy for the last 16 months, won't nominate anyone at all. He will leave the office of secretary of state unfilled while he and Pompeo manage diplomacy from the Oval Office and Langley, respectively. What this scenario achieves for the Democrats or the country, I do not know.

Perhaps the Democratic game plan is to make it impossible for Trump to govern in any capacity until the Democrats control Congress in January 2019. But that strategy assumes an awful lot, as well. Say the Democrats win the House but not the Senate, where the opposition faces tougher odds. With McConnell in control, Trump could recess appoint a secretary of state until the end of his term. Maybe it would be Pompeo. Or maybe it would be someone who offends progressive sensibilities even more.

"Secretary of State John Bolton" sure has a ring to it.