WASHINGTON – Sen. Rand Paul said Wednesday that he will oppose the nominations of Mike Pompeo to Secretary of State and Gina Haspel to CIA Director, saying he could not vote for nominees that still support the Iraq War or have ties to enhanced interrogation.
The announcement indicates that Republicans, who hold 51 seats in the Senate, could face a close vote to approve the nominations on the legislature floor. A minimum of 50 votes are needed to approve nominees.
President Donald Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson Tuesday, announcing on twitter that he would nominate CIA Director Mike Pompeo to fill the position. In a separate tweet, he announced that he would nominate CIA Deputy Director Gina Haspel to take over at the CIA.
But Paul, who has often broken from Senate Republicans on libertarian issues, told reporters today that he disagreed with the nominations.
The main issue, he said, was Pompeo’s continual support for the Iraq war. “I think it goes against most of the things President Trump campaigned on, that the unintended consequences of regime change in Iraq actually led to instability in the Middle East and actually made the conditions worse in the Middle East,” the Kentucky Republican said. “It perplexes me that he is now nominating for Secretary of State someone who has advocated and pushed for regime change in Iran.”
Paul also indicated opposition to Haspel’s nomination, citing her role in the CIA’s interrogations during the war on terror. On both nominations, with Vice President Mike Pence being the tie-breaking vote in the Senate, Trump can only afford to lose one vote, assuming that Democrats hold the party line. But Arizona Sen. John McCain, a Republican, called on Haspel to explain the nature and extent of Haspel’s involvement in torture.
“Current U.S. law is clear in banning enhanced interrogation techniques,” McCain said. “Any nominee for Director of the CIA must pledge without reservation to uphold this prohibition, which has helped us to regain our position of leadership in the struggle for universal human rights.”
On Pompeo, McCain indicated his support. But other prominent lawmakers on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have issued a mixed verdict on Trump’s personnel moves. Sen. Bob Corker, committee chairman, told Fox News that he supported Tillerson’s firing, saying that the president should have a Cabinet that he listens to. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker disagreed, saying that chaos in the president’s administration harms U.S. efforts toward peace around the world.
“People like Tillerson were a balancing point of view and it was important to have him in the administration,” Paul said. “And you often heard him talk about diplomacy, which is what the State Department is supposed to be involved in.”
Paul was the only Republican who voted against Pompeo’s nomination when he was confirmed by the Senate 66-32 for CIA Director last year. But the Secretary of State is a political and diplomatic position, Paul said, suggesting that a different kind of scrutiny should go his confirmation vote.
Correction: March 16, 2018
A previous version of the article referred to a 2017 ProPubica report that claimed Gina Haspel oversaw the interrogation of a then-suspected al-Qaida terrorist and took a direct role in interrogating him. ProPublica retracted the report on March 15. A subsequent quote from Rand Paul, which was referencing ProPublica’s claim, was also removed. Other mentions of Haspel’s ties to torture remain because ProPublica still holds that position.