A last-minute switch to "yes" by Kentucky Republican Rand Paul gave CIA Director Mike Pompeo enough votes to get a favorable recommendation from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Monday, letting him avoid becoming the first secretary of state nominee in the nation's history to be rejected in committee.
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The committee split along party lines 11-9 -- with Democrat Chris Coons switching his "no" vote to "present."
That resolved a last-minute snag that developed when Republican Johnny Isakson was delayed giving the eulogy at his best friend's funeral. But in a rare show of bipartisanship, Coons switched his vote to "present" allowing the vote to proceed.
Earlier, Paul explained his vote switch in a statement just before the vote took place.
“I just finished speaking to President Trump, after speaking to him several times today. I also met with and spoke to Director Pompeo," Paul said.
“After calling continuously for weeks for Director Pompeo to support President Trump’s belief that the Iraq war was a mistake, and that it is time to leave Afghanistan, today I received confirmation that Director Pompeo agrees with President Trump. “President Trump believes that Iraq was a mistake, that regime change has destabilized the region, and that we must end our involvement with Afghanistan," Paul's statement continued.
“Having received assurances from President Trump and Director Pompeo that he agrees with the President on these important issues, I have decided to support his nomination to be our next Secretary of State,” he said.
Until Monday afternoon Paul said he would vote "no" over objections to Pompeo’s foreign policy stances.
At just about the same time as Paul announced he'd vote "yes," Trump, taking part in a tree planting ceremony with French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters, "I heard Rand Paul went yes.. he’s a good man. I said he’d never let us down. He’s a good man."
Never before has a secretary of state nominee received an unfavorable recommendation from the Foreign Relations Committee, according to information provided by the Senate Historical Office.
“We have found no case of a Secretary of State nominee receiving other than a favorable report by the Committee on Foreign Relations,” the Historical Office confirmed in an e-mail.
Pompeo, who is still facing unprecedented opposition to his becoming the nation's top diplomat, will get a vote before the full Senate as soon as this week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced Monday.
But with many Democrats who just last year voted to confirm him as CIA director now publicly opposing him as the next secretary of state, Pompeo’s confirmation, while now likely, is much closer than his predecessors.
Three Democrats up for re-election this year from states Trump handily won in the 2016 presidential election -- Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Joe Donnelly of Indiana -- have announced they will support Pompeo.
As long as more Republicans don't defect, and with at least three Democrats now on board, Pompeo could become the next head of the State Department.
It is very unusual for a secretary of state nominee to face such opposition.
“I realize we’re in an atmosphere now where that is just not going to be the case,” Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee said last week on the Senate floor. “I realize my Democratic friends in many cases feel like that in supporting Pompeo, it's a proxy for support of the Trump administration policies, which many of them abhor. I understand that.”
“I hope that the members on the other side of the aisle that have not yet said how they are going to vote will think about the circumstances that we’re in today and feel like that they can support a highly qualified Secretary of State,” Corker went on.
The White House applauded the committee approval late Monday and said they "look forward to the full Senate confirming him in the coming days."
"With Secretary of State-designate Mike Pompeo's favorable report from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the American people are one step closer to having their top diplomat in place at a critical time in our history," the White House said in its statement. "Under President Donald J. Trump's leadership, the United States is on a path toward a safer, more prosperous future."
Last year, Pompeo had little trouble clinching the confirmation to be the director of the CIA. He received a favorable recommendation from the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence, and he was confirmed by the full Senate in a 66-32 vote.
The votes against Rex Tillerson, 56-43, made Senate history when he was confirmed as secretary of state last year.
It’s possible Pompeo will beat that record.