WASHINGTON — Overcoming a bruising confirmation fight, the Senate voted Thursday to confirm CIA Director Mike Pompeo as President Donald Trump’s second secretary of state — but the first who Trump says shares his worldview and opinions on Iran, North Korea and other key concerns.
The vote was 57-42, an unusually low margin of approval for America’s top diplomat, a position that normally draws broad bipartisan support to give a president his chosen candidate to conduct foreign policy.
Pompeo was sworn in by Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Samuel Alito and immediately started work, taking off for Brussels to attend a meeting of NATO foreign ministers on Friday, according to Heather Nauert, the State Department spokeswoman. Pompeo then will travel to Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, she said.
“I’m delighted to be secretary of state and completely humbled by the responsibility,” Pompeo said in a statement. “I’m looking forward to serving the American people and getting to work right away.”
Trump said Pompeo has his trust and support.
“Having a patriot of Mike’s immense talent, energy and intellect leading the Department of State will be an incredible asset for our country at this critical time in history,” he said in a statement from the White House.
Pompeo, 54, faces major diplomatic challenges in coming weeks, including whether Trump will follow through with his vow to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal by a self-imposed May 12 deadline, and planning for a potential nuclear summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un by mid-June.
The Senate vote reflected widespread Democratic opposition to Pompeo over his outspoken hawkish positions after he was elected to Congress in 2010 as a tea party Republican from Kansas, and previous statements seen as biased against Muslims and gays, lesbians and transgender people.
Many opponents also worried that Pompeo would fail to serve as a counterbalance to what one Democratic senator called Trump’s “worst instincts.”
“I expect our chief diplomat to have a vision for diplomacy,” Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on the Senate floor ahead of the vote.
Pompeo “failed to express any tangible diplomatic strategism” during his confirmation hearing, Menendez added. “He failed to be forthright with the committee, and finally, I do not have a satisfactory answer to the question: Which Mike Pompeo am I being asked to vote on?”
Supporters said Pompeo’s seven years in Congress, and especially his last 15 months as CIA director, have prepared him to head the State Department. Having the president’s ear, they said, will enhance his ability to influence foreign policy decisions.
In the end, seven members of the Senate Democratic caucus — including five who face re-election battles in November in states Trump won handily in 2016 — joined Senate Republicans to vote for confirmation.
The margin was unusual because Senate confirmation votes for secretary of State typically are lopsided, even when the other party controls the chamber. Moreover, secretaries typically serve a full term with the president.
Under President Barack Obama, John F. Kerry won Senate approval by a vote of 94-3 in 2013, and Hillary Clinton was approved by 94-2 in 2009. President George W. Bush’s two picks also sailed through. Condoleezza Rice was confirmed by a vote of 85-13 in 2005, and Colin Powell was approved by acclamation in 2001.
Only Rex Tillerson, Trump’s first secretary of state, faced such substantial opposition. His confirmation vote last year was 56-43, with a large group of Democrats voting in opposition.
Trump fired Tillerson, a former CEO of Exxon Mobil, via Twitter last month after the two repeatedly clashed over the Iran deal and other policy issues.
Pompeo limped out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Monday after Democrats on the committee all lined up against him. With one Republican absent, the vote initially was a tie. Rep. Chris Coons, D-Del., then changed his vote to “present” to allow the nomination to proceed to the full Senate.
Pompeo arguably tried out for the job by conducting a secret diplomatic mission for Trump, visiting Pyongyang on April 8 to meet with the North Korean leader and discuss planning for the summit.
Trump told “Fox & Friends” in a telephone interview Thursday that he is looking at three possible dates and five potential sites for the talks. Trump said earlier this week that his goal is to get Kim to give up all his nuclear weapons.
Trump also has made clear he wants to withdraw from the Iran deal, which was negotiated by six world powers with Iran in an effort to block Tehran from building nuclear weapons. U.S. officials say Iran has complied with terms of the accord, but Trump considers it too lenient toward the Islamic Republic.
Pompeo had condemned the agreement, but he testified at his Senate confirmation hearing two weeks ago that he was open to “fixing rather than nixing” the deal, and would seek more intrusive monitoring of Iranian facilities and other changes.
Pompeo vowed in the hearing to help rebuild the State Department, which is suffering low morale and depleted ranks, after a year of budget cutting that Tillerson’s critics said eroded the administration’s ability to conduct foreign policy and influence events abroad.
Trump has nominated Gina Haspel, a veteran intelligence officer, to replace Pompeo as head of the CIA. Her Senate confirmation hearing is scheduled for May 9.
The Senate also confirmed Richard Grenell, 51, as U.S. ambassador to Germany on the eve of a working visit to Washington on Friday by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The vote for Grenell was 56-42, the same margin Pompeo received.
Trump nominated Grenell last September, but he ran afoul of Democrats over reports he often badgered people, especially women, on Twitter. Trump this week blamed what he called “Obstructionist” Democrats for the long-stalled nomination.
As the U.S. spokesman at the United Nations for eight years under President George W. Bush, Grenell worked closely with John Bolton, who served as U.S. ambassador there for 18 months in 2005 and 2006. Trump recently named Bolton as White House national security adviser.