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Menendez Dismisses Heitkamp’s Support for Pompeo: She’s Focused On ‘Agriculture’

• April 20, 2018 12:25 pm

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Sen. Bob Menendez (D., N.J.) dismissed fellow Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp's (N.D.) support for CIA Director Mike Pompeo to become the next secretary of state during a CNN interview on Friday, saying she was focused on other things like "agriculture."

Host Kate Bolduan asked how Senate Democratic opposition to Pompeo's nomination would affect the upcoming talks between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

"What is worse, Mike Pompeo as secretary of state, or Donald Trump walking into a meeting with Kim Jong Un without a secretary of state at his side?" Bolduan asked.

"I don't accept the proposition that it has to be either-or," Menendez said. "When that meeting is set is strictly up to the president unless Kim Jong Un is going to dictate when it happens. So he could nominate a new secretary of state that would have the confidence of Congress—"

"That is definitely not going to happen within the time period that we're talking about," Bolduan interrupted.

"He could … The problem is, then I would have to accept a secretary of state who falls far below the desirable qualifications to be the secretary of state," Menendez said.

Menendez said it was a "red herring" to say a meeting without a fixed date is the reason to approve Pompeo, who couldn't get bipartisan support. Bolduan then asked Menendez about Heitkamp's support for Pompeo, which she announced Thursday.

"What do you say to Heidi Heitkamp?" Bolduan asked.

Menendez appeared to dismiss Heitkamp's view and said her focus is on other issues like agriculture, unlike his focus on foreign policy.

"Everybody makes their own judgment. She's not a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. I don't think that's where her focus is," he said.

"Where is her focus then?" Bolduan asked, laughing.

"Agriculture, and other issues that I think are incredibly important to her state and to the country," Menendez said. "But as someone who spent 26 years in Congress, in the House and the Senate, sitting on the Foreign Relations Committee of each house, I am focused like a laser beam on what foreign policy should be and what it means to our country in terms of national security."

Another male colleague of Heitkamp, Sen. Ben Cardin (D., Md.) appeared to dismiss Heitkamp's support for Pompeo by also saying she is not on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Menendez's comments were reminiscent of former Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley's (Iowa) flippant reference in 2014 to Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) as a "farmer from Iowa who never went to law school." Braley went on to lose his Senate election race that year to Sen. Joni Ernst (R., Iowa).

Heitkamp is the only Democrat so far to announce she will support Pompeo's confirmation as secretary of state.