Contentious confirmation hearings lie ahead for Pompeo, Haspel, Jackson

Trump's nominees face possibly contentious confirmation hearings.

March 30, 2018, 7:35 PM

Potentially contentious confirmation hearings lie ahead for President Trump’s cabinet nominees when the Senate returns from a two-week recess next week.

Senate Republicans, most of whom are loathe to deal with difficult confirmations during a midterm election year and would much rather tout the benefits of tax cuts for the middle class, have vowed to move quickly on the nominees to lead the departments of State, Veterans' Affairs, and the Central Intelligence Agency.

In March, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, John Cornyn of Texas, told reporters that the upcoming confirmation fights are “perhaps, going to be a challenge.”

"It would help us get more things done if there weren't so many distractions. But that is why we do our job here and they do their job at the White House,” Cornyn said, taking a subtle hit at the staffing upheaval coming out of the administration.

While most Republicans are on board with Trump’s chosen three, Democrats have already voiced their concerns and are promising questions of the nominees that will go well beyond the scope of their qualifications.

All three nominees will need a majority vote to secure confirmation in the Senate.

NOMINEE: Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State designate

Rex Tillerson was one of the shortest-serving U.S. Secretaries of State.

Trump ousted Tillerson thanks to a fraught relationship further marred by disagreements on major foreign policy issues involving Iran, North Korea, climate and trade, as well as rumors that Tillerson had called the president a “moron.”

Meanwhile, former CIA Director Mike Pompeo and Trump are fast friends.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump, with Vice President Mike Pence and CIA Director Mike Pompeo, speaks during a security briefing, Aug. 10, 2017, at his Bedminster National Golf Club in New Jersey.
President Donald Trump, with Vice President Mike Pence and CIA Director Mike Pompeo, speaks during a security briefing, Aug. 10, 2017, at his Bedminster National Golf Club in New Jersey.

While serving as CIA director, Trump requested Pompeo to give him his intelligence briefings in person multiple times per week.

Pompeo, who served as a member of the House prior to being named CIA director, was confirmed by the Senate in 2017 in a 66-32 vote, with a majority of Democrats voting no.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee expects to hold a hearing on the Pompeo nomination in April.

“Director Pompeo and I had a very good meeting today,” Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said in a statement last month. “I was very impressed with him and his knowledge base and appreciated the opportunity to understand his worldview. As I shared with him, our committee will move through the nomination process as expeditiously as possible.”

The ranking Democrat, Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, slammed Trump as a “Commander-in-Chaos” for firing Tillerson and vowed a “rigorous” confirmation process for Pompeo over fears that he’s too partisan for the job.

“I remain convinced that the best person to serve as the nation’s top diplomat must be someone who can rise above partisanship, and commit to promoting core American interests, including values-driven diplomacy,” Menendez said in a statement.

NOMINEE: Gina Haspel, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency designate

Gina Haspel is a career intelligence officer who joined the CIA in 1985. Haspel has held numerous senior leadership positions within the spy agency, according to a biography posted on the CIA’s website.

If she is confirmed, she’d be the first women to head up the CIA.

PHOTO: Gina Haspel is pictured here in an undated file photo.
Gina Haspel is pictured here in an undated file photo.

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hasn’t formally announced when it will hold a confirmation hearing for Haspel, but the chairman has indicated he will move “without delay.”

“I know Gina personally and she has the right skill set, experience, and judgment to lead one of our nation’s most critical agencies,” said Sen. Richard Burr, chairman of the Senate’s Intelligence Committee. “I’m proud of her work, and know that my committee will continue its positive relationship with the Central Intelligence Agency under her leadership. I look forward to supporting her nomination, ensuring its consideration without delay.”

But her path to confirmation is murky. Many Democrats already oppose her nomination, but some Republicans are concerned, too.

Sen. John McCain, R-Az., has called into question Haspel’s role in in the agency’s use of “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

“Ms. Haspel needs to explain the nature and extent of her involvement in the CIA’s interrogation program during the confirmation process. I know the Senate will do its job in examining Ms. Haspel’s record as well as her beliefs about torture and her approach to current law,” McCain said in a statement.

McCain, who spent five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, has called the torture of detainees in US custody “one of the darkest chapters in American history.”

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said Haspel’s record on torture, including her involvement in the CIA’s “black sites” – the overseas prisons used to hold top Al Qaeda terrorists seized by the CIA, should disqualify her from consideration.

NOMINEE: Dr. Ronny Jackson, Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs designate

Running the embattled Veterans Affairs department is unquestionably one of the most unforgiving jobs for a cabinet secretary and Trump’s pick is already facing mounting skepticism over his ability to handle the job.

As the second largest agency that oversees care for more than 9 million veterans, the embattled department has faced years of scrutiny over critical deficiencies and widespread inaccuracies over wait times for patients in need of care.

Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, the president’s nominee to head up the agency has served as the White House physician during the past three administrations.

PHOTO: White House physician, Dr. Ronny Jackson, speaks to reporters during the daily press briefing at the White House, Jan. 16, 2018.
White House physician, Dr. Ronny Jackson, speaks to reporters during the daily press briefing at the White House, Jan. 16, 2018.

His confirmation hearing will call into question his lack of management experience as well as questions on the president’s health.

The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs holds jurisdiction over his nomination, and as of right now, hasn’t announced a confirmation hearing.

Committee aides told ABC News that they haven’t received official paperwork from the White House announcing Trump’s intention to nominate Jackson to the post, and until they do, they can’t schedule any hearings on Jackson.

“We’ll do our part as the committee to expeditiously vet and process the nomination,” an aide to Sen. Johnny Isakson, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, told ABC News.

In a statement, Isakson only said that he looked forward to meeting Jackson and "learning more about him."

Democrats, however, are raising the alarm over fears that Jackson could lead the VA down a path of privatization, which would allow veterans to seek health care outside of the sprawling VA health care system.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Ct., said Jackson will face a “buzz saw of skepticism” during his confirmation hearing in an interview with National Public Radio on Friday morning.

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