Senate Confirms Trump CIA Pick, Tillerson Inches Closer

Senate blesses Pompeo to lead intelligence agency as president's team slowly grows

The Senate on Monday confirmed Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo as CIA director, while secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson passed an important test in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The 66-32 vote on Pompeo came after Democrats blocked a confirmation vote on Friday. On Monday, supporters praised Pompeo’s qualifications and in-depth knowledge of national security issues. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) joined 31 Democrats in opposition. The Senate initially held open the vote for two senators from Connecticut who were stuck in inclement weather, but the vote was closed when the pair, whose votes couldn’t have changed the outcome, failed to arrive.

“He didn’t read about this in a book. He knows firsthand the role intelligence plays in helping the president and other policymakers form both U.S. foreign policy and U.S. national security policy.”

“Congressman Pompeo’s national security experience makes supporting his nomination, quite frankly, one of the easiest nomination decisions I have faced in the six years and one month that I’ve had the honor of serving the people of Florida in the United States Senate,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said.

Before winning election to the House of Representatives in 2010, Pompeo served in the Army during the Gulf War. He is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy and Harvard Law School.

“He didn’t read about this in a book,” Rubio said. “He knows firsthand the role intelligence plays in helping the president and other policymakers form both U.S. foreign policy and U.S. national security policy.”

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Democrats, however, painted Pompeo as a threat to privacy. The congressman has in the past argued in support of the government’s collection of bulk data to spot patterns that could help prevent terrorist attacks.

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Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) warned that confirming Pompeo would be a step toward an “Orwellian” society.

“We should be greatly troubled by giving power to a person who has stated flat-out that he wants to expand the surveillance state, not rein it in,” he said.

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) raised the specter of the CIA tracking a hypothetical college student calling home or a grandmother calling her grandchildren to wish them a happy birthday.

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“We cannot afford to revive and expand some of the worst elements of the Patriot Act,” he said.

Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said attacks by Democrats contradicted existing legal prohibitions on the behavior that they described and Pompeo’s own record. He said the CIA is focused on foreign threats and cannot, under law, spy on Americans. He also disputed another objection to Pompeo — that he supposedly would accept the use of torture by U.S. officials. Pompeo, Lankford pointed out, testified that he would abide by the law and the U.S Army field manual.

“He’s one of the most qualified people out there to possibly serve in this role,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 11-10 on Monday to send Tillerson’s nomination to the full Senate. Rubio, who had been critical of the former ExxonMobil CEO, cleared the way for confirmation when he announced his support. With Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) also signaling their support, Tillerson appeared all but assured of winning the backing of the full Senate.

That left progressive activists outside the Senate angry and disheartened. Friends of the Earth President Erich Pica urged senators to reject Tillerson and warned that the American people would hold them accountable if they do not.

“If the Senate wanted a human rights-violating, climate-denying, fact-bending chief diplomat, then they got their man,” she stated.

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