Pompeo To Face Tough Questioning In Secretary Of State Confirmation Hearing

1 hour ago

Updated at 11:18 a.m.

Mike Pompeo, currently the director of the CIA, testifies in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today as President Trump's nominee to be the next secretary of state. Pompeo will face a battery of questions not only on matters of diplomacy, but also on whether he is willing to stand up to the president.

In excerpts of his prepared remarks, Pompeo downplays his reputation as a hawk, saying that his time in uniform had given him a dread of war.

"War is always the last resort," he said. "I would prefer achieving the President's foreign policy goals with unrelenting diplomacy."

The hearing comes amid questions of how the Trump administration will respond to a suspected chemical attack in Syria.

Pompeo will also face questions about how the United States should handle North Korea. In his prepared remarks, he points to diplomatic efforts currently underway, and says he has "read the CIA histories of previous negotiations with the North Koreans, and am confident that we will not repeat the mistakes of the past. President Trump isn't one to play games at the negotiating table — and I won't be either."

Then there's Russia, which he said has been "enabled by years of soft policy."

"That's now over," he said, praising the Trump administration's actions toward Russia, including sanctions and the expulsion of Russian diplomats and intelligence officers from the U.S.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has vowed to oppose Pompeo's nomination.

Democrats will focus on whether Pompeo is willing to be a voice of dissent when needed.

"I think the first thing you want to know if whether he will be an independent voice in the White House that he will stand up for American values and the importance of diplomacy, and that will be tested," Sen. Ben Cardin, a Democrat from Maryland, told NPR's Morning Edition.

Trump announced in a tweet last month that Rex Tillerson was fired as secretary of state and that Pompeo would be his nominee to replace him. Trump and Tillerson did not always agree on major foreign policy decisions — a factor that won Tillerson some measure of approval from Democrats.

To prepare for his confirmation hearing, Pompeo sought the advice of previous secretaries of state — including Hillary Clinton and John Kerry. The outreach to Clinton is especially notable, as Pompeo called her "morally reprehensible" following the Behghazi attacks, while he was a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Pompeo is expected to highlight his aim of bringing new energy to the State Department, which suffered from high vacancies and low morale under Tillerson.

But Sen. Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, says that is simply the baseline expectation for the role.

"Let me be clear, members of this Committee expect every Secretary of State to champion the department," he said in his opening statement.

The overriding theme of Menendez's statement was the president, whom he said had displayed an "erratic approach" to foreign policy.

"As our nation's top diplomat, will you champion diplomacy and offer actual plans?" Mendendez continued. "Will you stand up to President Trump and advise him differently when he is wrong? Or will you be a yes man?"

Ann Wright, a protester from the organization CodePink, was removed from the room by security officers near the beginning of the hearing after shouting. Wright is an Army veteran and former diplomat.

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