White House Says Democrats Opposed to Pompeo Undermine Kim Talks

(Bloomberg) -- The White House is pressuring Senate Democrats to back Mike Pompeo as secretary of state, arguing that failing to do so would undercut talks with North Korea after his recent meeting with its leader.

“Mike Pompeo will go down as one of the great secretary of states,” President Donald Trump said Wednesday during a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. Pompeo “had a great meeting with Kim Jong Un and got along with him really well, really great, and he’s that kind of a guy.”

White House Says Democrats Opposed to Pompeo Undermine Kim Talks

“Our country really needs him,” Trump added.

On a conference call with reporters hosted by the White House, Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas said Wednesday “it would send a very bad sign, and it would set back the preparations and perhaps even the results of that upcoming summit, for the Senate Democrats to oppose, as a bloc, Mike Pompeo’s nomination to be secretary of state."

Trump had confirmed hours earlier that he had dispatched Pompeo, who’s currently director of the CIA, to Pyongyang to meet with Kim in advance of a summit expected for late May or early June where Trump will press the case for North Korea to give up its expanding nuclear arsenal.

Committee in Doubt

Pompeo’s nomination to succeed the fired Rex Tillerson at the State Department may not win approval in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where Democrats including Bob Menendez, the ranking member, have said they will oppose him, as has Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky.

Trump on Wednesday expressed optimism that Paul will reverse course and support Pompeo.

White House Says Democrats Opposed to Pompeo Undermine Kim Talks

“Rand Paul is a very special guy as far as I’m concerned,” Trump said. “He’s never let me down, and I don’t think he’ll let us down again.”

The nominee’s supporters are concentrating instead on winning a vote on the Senate floor, where they are pressuring many of the 10 Democrats up for re-election this year in states that Trump won in 2016. Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas said on the Senate floor Wednesday that it would be “unthinkable” and “reckless” to block Trump’s choice for the nation’s top diplomat ahead of the North Korea summit.

“I cannot imagine that senators like Joe Manchin from West Virginia and Joe Donnelly from Indiana and Heidi Heitkamp from North Dakota, who are facing re-election in states that our president won by landslide elections, are going to oppose an obviously qualified nominee for whom they voted last year,” Cotton said. “If they do and they’re up for re-election, they may suffer the consequences.”

While Cotton and White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said on the call that Pompeo’s trip to North Korea underscores the need to push through his confirmation for the new post, his meeting with Kim in the role of CIA director wasn’t unprecedented. The U.S., North Korea and South Korea all have counted on their intelligence agencies over the years for back-channel communications.

In 2014, James Clapper, national intelligence director under President Barack Obama, made a secret trip to North Korea and won the freedom of two U.S. citizens who had been sentenced to years of hard labor there.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.