Highlighting his close relationship with President Donald Trump, senators largely focused on Pompeo’s likelihood to stand up to the president rather than taking a “go along to get along,” giving Trump advice on clear signalling to friends and foes alike.
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) asked Pompeo if he would “champion diplomacy” and “offer actual plans” instead of nurturing Trump’s “worst instincts” and “being a yes man.”
“Will you champion our values when the president embraces dictators who quash the free press or suggest doing away with elections?” Menendez asked. “Will you stay silent when the president and those closest to him balk at the very idea of diplomacy and instead advocate unnecessary wars that will cost the blood of our children and the treasurer of our coffers? Will you go along with them? As the top diplomat, will you champion diplomacy and offer actual plans? Will you stand up to President Trump and advise him differently when he’s wrong?”
But Pomepeo didn’t really answer any of these questions. Instead, he mentioned being employee of the month at Baskin Robbins (twice), being very good at the game of corn hole, and loving his dog.
He did, however, talk about the importance of boosting morale at a State Department plagued by vacancies, which he committed to fill.
He also said that despite his hawkish reputation, he values diplomacy.
“There are few who dread war more than those of us who have served in uniform,” said Pompeo, “And there is a great deal of room between a military presence and war. War is always the last resort.”
He gave similar lackluster answers on specific policy issues.
When pressed on his views on the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, Pompeo gave contradictory signals. He refused to answer whether he supports the agreement, even though his views are well known. Pompeo was against the deal and argued for bombing Iran’s facilities. During his confirmation hearing, he initially denied saying so in the past, and said he was in favor of diplomacy.
When Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) asked about his 2014 statement in favor of bombing Iran, Pompeo said he was probably basing it on intelligence he had at the time. He said Saudi Arabia had reason to worry about Iran having nuclear capabilities, even though he’d earlier admitted that there is no evidence that Iran is violating the terms of the deal.
Ultimately, Pompeo said he agreed with the president that the Iranian nuclear agreement would have to be fixed before May 12.
Trump has threatened to pull out of the Iran deal — a deal that previous Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (fired in March) thought was worth saving. Sanctions waivers that would preserve the deal are up for renewal in May. The president said that he will not extend the waivers unless the European partners in the deal “fix” it. But France, Germany, and the United Kingdom have not managed to pass any new sanctions on Iran.
Investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election
Menendez engaged in a tense exchange with Pompeo about a conversation he had with Trump and National Intelligence Director Daniel Coates in March 2017, in which the president seemed to be asking for an intervention into former FBI Director James Comey’s investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Pompeo absolutely refused to answer any questions about that meeting, only confirming that he’d been interviewed by Mueller. He also declined to say if he’d resign in protest if Trump fired Mueller after reports that he is considering doing so.
Pompeo did not get to deliver his full testimony owing to time limits, but he did agree with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) that Russia had interfered in the 2016 U.S. elections.
On the upcoming negotiations with North Korea over that country’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, Pompeo said, “President Trump isn’t one to play games at the negotiating table — and I won’t be either.”
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) said that Pompeo had called for regime change in North Korea, which Pompeo denied. But speaking at a security forum in July 2017, the CIA director, did, indeed, say, “As for the regime, I am hopeful we will find a way to separate that regime from this system. The North Korean people I’m sure are lovely people and would love to see him go.” He also added he wasn’t sure Kim Jong Un’s ouster would necessarily be great for the United States, as it’s not clear who would replace him.
If confirmed, Pompeo will be stepping into the role of the country’s top diplomat at a crucial time. The Trump administration is embroiled in tensions on several continents, as the president has threatened missile strikes against Russia in Syria, where Moscow is supporting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
On this issue, Pompeo said that Trump might have the authority to order missile strikes on Syria without congressional approval.
Trump has also threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea (before agreeing to talks that have not yet been scheduled) and his new national security advisor, John Bolton, has repeatedly dismissed the value of diplomacy with North Korea.
Pompeo would also have to handle Trump’s trade war with China — a country with which Pompeo has done business that he failed to disclose prior to the hearing. McClatchy reported earlier this week that Pompeo owned a company in his home state of Kansas that imported oilfield equipment from a government-owned company in China. He was not questioned on this issue.
He did say that the top priority with China is to get its continued cooperation with sanctions against North Korea.