WASHINGTON — Rep. Mike Pompeo remained coy Wednesday about whether he plans to challenge Sen. Jerry Moran and said his recent criticism of the senator had been policy-based.
Pompeo said he hadn’t made up his mind about whether to run against Moran, a fellow Republican. He declined to signal whether he was leaning toward entering the race.
A primary challenge of a Republican senator by a sitting Republican representative would signal a political earthquake in Kansas. The showdown between the two men likely would catapult the race into the national spotlight.
“I don’t have anything to say. But soon. I’ll have an answer soon,” Pompeo said.
He declined to specify whether his answer might come within a few days.
In an interview with the Topeka Capital-Journal at his office in Washington, Pompeo, who represents Wichita and south-central Kansas, rejected the idea he made statements about Moran, describing them instead as policy-oriented.
“It’s about policy,” Pompeo said. “It’s about those of us who came here — it’s about those of us who came here to make a difference, and that’s what I’m trying to do. And as I think about whether to enter this, that’s what — it’s not about any other person. It’s truly not. It’s about policy. It’s about changing America.”
The representative last week on Twitter said Moran took 17 years to sign onto legislation to abolish the Internal Revenue Service, a position Pompeo said he has held since his first day in Congress. Pompeo has been a congressman since 2011.
Moran’s campaign has said the senator signed a “Fair Tax” pledge more than a decade ago.
Pompeo also needled Moran over his position on holding hearings on President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland. Since hours after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, a number of Senate Republicans have resolved to block any consideration of Garland.
Moran initially said he favored hearings although he opposed Garland, but later amended that, saying he opposed holding any hearings. Moran’s office has said he made the decision after examining Garland’s record and concluding it disqualified him from serving on the court.
Pompeo thanked Moran after he changed his position, but called out his “tardy conversion.”
“When Sen. Moran said he was willing to allow Judge Garland to have a hearing — to me this is a trans-generational issue,” Pompeo said Wednesday. “This isn’t FAA reauthorization, this isn’t a continuing resolution. This is about the direction of our country for decades to come. So this transcends the normal political sphere.
“This is go time, and to have a Kansas senator take a position that I thought put my son — and someday we’ll have grandkids — at risk of having a politicized Obama Supreme Court for the next 30 years required me to try to shape what we were doing.”
In response, a senior Moran aide said the senator understands the importance of the Supreme Court vacancy issue. The aide noted Moran’s work to elect a Republican Senate majority. Moran served as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee in the lead-up to the 2014 election. The aide argued Garland already would be on the Supreme Court under the Democrat-controlled Senate led by Sen. Harry Reid.
Moran filed for re-election Monday. His campaign has said the filing was planned in advance, not timed because of a potential Pompeo challenge.
“I fly back to the Capitol each week to stand against those who spend recklessly, surrender continually and tax repeatedly,” Moran said in a video released alongside the filing. “I’ve done that not just with this president, but also my own party who have retreated from our values.”
Pompeo has approximately six weeks to make up his mind. The filing deadline to run in the primary is June 1. The primary election is in August.
Moran has built up a significant war chest. His campaign organization had nearly $3.1 million at the end of the year. Pompeo’s campaign operation, meanwhile, had more than $1.1 million.
Speculation last fall had centered on whether Overland Park radiologist Milton Wolf would challenge Moran. Wolf ran unsuccessfully against Sen. Pat Roberts in the 2014 primary, though he carried 40 percent of the vote to Roberts’ 48 percent.
Pompeo indicated Wolf’s almost-successful run against Roberts wasn’t influencing his decision on whether to challenge Moran.
“I’m trying to figure out if this is the best place to go serve,” Pompeo said.