Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky announced Wednesday that he would vote against confirming Mike Pompeo as the next secretary of state and Gina Haspel as CIA director, becoming the first GOP senator to break with President Donald Trump over the nominees.
In opposing the nominations, Paul pointed to Pompeo’s hawkish stance on Iran, stating that he “cannot endorse [Trump’s] nomination of people who loved the Iraq War so much that they want an Iran War next.”
Pompeo and Haspel, he continued “want to manipulate the president into the sphere of the neocons who never met a war they didn’t want to star in.”
Paul has long campaigned against foreign engagements, including wars — a position that often puts him at odds with the Republican Party. Paul said Wednesday that he had supported Trump because he thought he would break with the tradition of past Republican presidents and correct “the foreign policy mistakes of the last two administrations.”
“Yet now he picks for secretary of state and CIA director people who embody them, defend them and, I’m afraid, will repeat them.”
Republicans hope to approve Trump’s nominees quickly, with the Foreign Relations Committee scheduling hearings next month for Pompeo and the Senate intelligence committee set to consider Haspel.
“Both these nominations seem perfectly well-qualified,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday. “We hope they’ll not be subjected to undue delay.”
But Paul’s opposition is all but certain to make it more likely Republicans will need Democratic support for the confirmations, or rely on Vice President Mike Pence to break a tie.
Republicans hold a narrow 51-49 Senate majority. But McCain has been away fighting brain cancer and it’s not certain he would be present for the vote.
Several Democrats criticized Trump’s choices of Pompeo, saying that Pompeo’s hawkish positions and seeming willingness to bend facts as CIA director — such as saying the intelligence community had determined that Russian meddling had no effect on the outcome of the 2016 election — made him unsuitable for the role of top diplomat.
Though 14 Democrats voted to confirm Pompeo as CIA director last year, many of them said Tuesday that they were reconsidering their support, based on Pompeo’s tenure as CIA director.
Many Democrats also criticized Haspel’s record supervising a secret CIA prison that engaged in “enhanced interrogation techniques,” commonly referred to as torture, and later helping destroy videotaped evidence of the procedures. Those episodes should disqualify her as a potential CIA director, they said.
Paul said Wednesday that he also believed “Haspel’s record on torture . . . should disqualify her from consideration.” He added that he also had concerns about Pompeo’s previously stated support for waterboarding and other interrogation techniques — despite Pompeo’s promise at his CIA confirmation hearing to uphold the laws prohibiting torture — and his support for resuming the bulk collection of metadata.
Paul did not vote to confirm Pompeo as CIA director last year.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.