Pompeo-Kim Jong Un meeting raises stakes over confirmation: White House

PHOTO: Secretary of State nominee Mike Pompeo speaks during his confirmation hearing before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill, April 12, 2018, in Washington, DC.PlayMark Wilson/Getty Images
WATCH Trump pick for secretary of state continues fight for confirmation

President Donald Trump is expressing confidence that CIA director Mike Pompeo will be confirmed as secretary of state, following a stern warning from the White House Wednesday that opposition to his nomination could imperil efforts to negotiate a summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

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"He’s a great gentleman and I think he’ll go down as a great secretary of state," Trump said when asked by reporters at Mar-a-Lago whether he was concerned that Pompeo's nomination could be derailed.

Trump then praised Pompeo over the news that broke Tuesday evening of his secret trip to North Korea on Easter weekend to meet directly with Kim.

“He just left North Korea," Trump said. "Had a great meeting with Kim Jong Un and got along with him really well, really great.”

Trump added, "I have a feeling it's going to work out very well and I think our country really needs him."

Democrats who oppose Pompeo's confirmation have said they are skeptical of his diplomatic skills and some have cited concerns with his previous statements that they said were discriminatory towards LGBT people and Muslims.

With Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul a 'no' on his confirmation and Arizona Sen. John McCain absent from the Senate, Pompeo would need all other Republicans plus at least one Democrat to achieve the 51 votes needed to be confirmed.

But Trump said Wednesday that he believed Sen. Paul, whom the president said he considers a close friend, would potentially come around.

"I will say this about Rand Paul, he’s never let me down," Trump said. "And I don’t think he’ll let us down again."

Paul has described Pompeo among the "crazy neoconservatives" President Trump originally built his campaign in opposition to, and said shortly after Pompeo and CIA director nominee Gina Haspel were announced that he would "do everything I can to block them."

Following the president's comments Wednesday, Paul said he had talked with Trump on the phone and would meet with Pompeo "out of respect for the president," but that it would take a lot to change his mind.

Earlier Wednesday, the White House warned simmering Senate opposition to Pompeo's nomination could pose consequences for national security – and potentially undermine the high-stakes negotiations with North Korea he is personally overseeing.

"The trust that President Trump has in Director Pompeo, including having him represent the president and country in those initial talks with North Korea – that tells you how the president is already viewing Director Pompeo as the nation's chief diplomat - in what we expect will be his next role, confident will be his next role - as secretary of state," said counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway on a conference call with reporters.

Sen. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican and a top Trump foreign policy ally, said a Senate failure to give Pompeo a strong bipartisan endorsement could undercut diplomatic efforts on the heels of his trip to Pyongyang.

"He's already invested deeply in the upcoming summit between the president and Kim Jong Un. It would be a very bad sign and I think set back the preparation and perhaps even results of that upcoming summit for Senate Democrats to oppose as a bloc Mike Pompeo's nomination to be secretary of state," Cotton said on the call.

Even some Democrats who have expressed opposition to Pompeo were encouraged by news of his secret meeting earlier this month with Kim.

"I think this is the kind of discussion that has no downside and may have an upside," Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat, who has already announced his no-vote for Pompeo, said Wednesday.

Of multiple Democrats interviewed by ABC News Wednesday, only Senate Foreign Relations Ranking Member Bob Menendez was sour about the fact that Pompeo didn't brief the committee during his hearing proceedings.

"If truth and being forthcoming as the secretary of state nominee is one of the standards we like to see for the next secretary of state, I think he failed that," Menendez said.