This morning, Mike Pompeo — who is Donald Trump’s choice to replace Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State — gave testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in advance of the full Senate’s vote on his confirmation.
Some Republican senators were satisfied with general answers Pompeo gave regarding his administrative skills in how he has managed the CIA.
Others had serious concerns about how Pompeo would perform as Secretary of State, which is one of the country’s oldest and most important positions, dating back to the administration of George Washington.
Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts was particularly distressed with Pompeo’s response regarding a question on North Korea. Pompeo was willing to say that he could see circumstances in which America would have ground troops occupy North Korea. Senator Markey seemed horrified at that response.
Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey seemed concerned that Pompeo would not be forthcoming to Congress regarding the intentions of the President.
Pompeo refused to answer when the Senator asked him about a private meeting with Trump. Menendez asked if Trump had discussed Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation with him. Pompeo said flatly: “ Senator, I’m not going to talk about private conversations I’ve had with the President.”
When asked again later in the hearing regarding the private meeting said that he could not recall the conversation, remembered there was a meeting, remembered the date of the meeting, but could not recall what the President said in the meeting. He insisted the President did not ask him to do anything improper.
When asked how he would know that if he cannot recall the conversation, Pompeo gave a circular and convoluted response saying that he would have recalled if the President had asked him to do something improper.
Senator Cory Booker seemed particularly concerned with Pompeo’s relationships with extremist right wing radio personalities who have spoken openly and publicly about their Islamophobic sentiments.
Booker first thanked Pompeo for his deference and respect in visiting his office prior to the hearing, and then brought up specific topics of conversation from that meeting that he felt concerned and uncomfortable with.
Booker stated that Pompeo had implied that Muslim people had a responsibility to speak out against any act of terror performed by a Muslim person, and if they did not, then they were complicit in that act of terrorism.
Pompeo struggled to to articulate his position. He insisted that he is accepting of all people regardless of religion, and told Booker that what he meant was that Muslim leaders had an “opportunity” to speak out against terrorism.
He had a hard time explaining himself as Senator Booker brought to the hearing quotes from Pompeo making disparaging remarks about people who worship different gods, people of the Muslim faith, and his quote that Muslim people had a “special obligation” to speak out against terrorist attacks.
Pompeo stuttered and shifted uncomfortably as he described himself as a man who accepts all people from different faiths or those who choose to have no faith, and that all people had a responsibility to speak out against terrorism.
Senator Booker stated that he was happy to hear Pompeo say this out loud in in the hearing. “Words matter,” Booker said. Actions are also important, and Booker stressed that Pompeo needs to understand that his past actions and relationships give the appearance that as Secretary of State he may not be motivated to uphold America’s values, including freedom to practice any faith tradition.
Senator Booker then pressed Pompeo on his position on the freedom to marry.
Pompeo made it very clear that he felt marriage equality was wrong, but insisted that he accepts LGBTQ+ people and that his position does not mean that he supports discriminatory policies against people who don’t identify as straight heterosexuals. Booker asked very pointedly: “Do you think that being gay is a perversion?” But Pompeo refused to take back his previous statements.
“I stand by my position on this issue,” he said.
Senator Booker concluded his line of questioning by noting his concerns about Pompeo’s position that Muslim people have an obligation to speak out against terrorism, and his positions on religious freedom and the right for people of same sex to marry. Booker stated that the Secretary of State must uphold the Constitution and that the positions of the Secretary of State matter.
Senator Rand Paul was dissatisfied with the responses that Pompeo gave regarding his willingness to use military force around the world.
Paul asked if Pompeo believed that the President should be able to enter into a conflict, and noted the power to declare war rests with Congress, not the President.
Paul quoted the Constitution to Pompeo, who seemed to disagree with Paul’s interpretation of the powers the President of the United States has to enter into conflicts. Senator Paul expressed serious concerns about Pompeo’s position on remaining in Afghanistan. Paul pointed out that all of the people who were involved in the September 11th attacks are gone, and: “We are now sending people to war who were not born when 9⁄11 happened.” Senator Paul compared the quagmire of Afganistan to Vietnam and drew comparisons. Pompeo disagreed with Paul’s comparison and reiterated his position of the powers of the President.
Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii had a similar line of questioning as Senator Paul. He asked specifically what limitations he believes are applied to the President by Article II of the Constitution. As Pompeo shifted uncomfortably, he implied that he is not a constitutional law expert, and this particular issue has been debated for some time.
Senator Schatz reminded Pompeo that he had served in Congress, and that his job as Secretary of State would require him to answer to Congress, and requires a commitment to diplomacy and international norms.
Schatz later tweeted: “I will be voting no on Mike Pompeo’s nomination to be Secretary of State. Diplomats should believe in diplomacy. America’s top diplomat must be passionate about diplomacy. Mike Pompeo has not demonstrated that he values diplomacy, diplomats, or the State Department itself.”
Pompeo seems to favor military solutions, take a very right wing and executive branch centered perspective to foreign policy.
That’s a problem. Secretaries of State must be committed to diplomacy across the world and embrace the freedom and democracy that America stands for.
As Senator Booker stated, “Words matter.” The words that Pompeo spoke today demonstrate that he is willing to keep information from Congress and the American public. He is willing to make foreign policy decisions without input from Congress.
Pompeo does not respect the basic precepts of the Constitution, including the First Amendment, which provides that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.
Pompeo seems more interested in pleasing Donald Trump and hiding whatever members of the Foreign Relations Committee want to know about their secret meeting regarding Mueller’s investigation. He should not be confirmed.