Leahy Statement On The Nomination Of Mike Pompeo To Be Secretary Of State

Mr. President, I did not vote for Rex Tillerson to be Secretary of State.  Although Mr. Tillerson was a successful corporate executive, I did not believe that heading the world’s largest oil company was the right resume for the Nation’s top diplomat.  Mr. Tillerson is a man of substantial intellect who wanted to do the right thing, but his record as Secretary of State speaks for itself.  He did not do well, and the country, the State Department, and its employees – including some of our most experienced diplomats who felt they were no longer relevant – paid a substantial price. 

For that reason, it is imperative that the next Secretary of State has the qualities and professional track record to restore the preeminent role that the Department has traditionally played in U.S. foreign policy.

It is also for that reason that today I intend to vote against the nomination of CIA Director Mike Pompeo to be Secretary of State. 

By all accounts, Mr. Pompeo, like Mr. Tillerson, is a man of substantial intellect, and my conversations with him have seemed to confirm that.  But, as we have learned, that alone is not enough to qualify one for a job that should be filled by someone who has proven that he or she understands and is skilled in the art of diplomacy and whose beliefs are consistent with fundamental American values.  As the country’s top diplomat, the Secretary of State should be a vocal and persuasive advocate for diplomacy to avoid conflict and crises.  Unfortunately, I believe Mr. Pompeo’s record falls far short.

Mike Pompeo has made no secret of his strong support for President Trump, whose saber rattling, provocations, and so-called “America First” policies would more accurately be described as “America Alone”.  The President has called for drastic cuts in the State Department’s budget and personnel that would sharply diminish its role in diplomacy and development.  He would weaken international organizations and alliances that serve our interests, and undermine U.S. global leadership at a time when China and our other competitors are seeking every opportunity to expand their global reach.  Unlike Secretary of Defense Mattis, who in response to the White House’s proposed cuts has been a strong advocate for the State Department’s mission and budget, I am not aware that Mr. Pompeo ever publicly expressed a view either way until his confirmation hearing.

Mr. Pompeo supported the invasion of Iraq and he has defended the use of torture, two of the most profoundly misguided foreign policy decisions since the Vietnam War.  As far as I know, it was not until this week, when his nomination was in jeopardy, that he said the Iraq war that he had long defended was a mistake – a mistake that claimed the lives of thousands of American soldiers and sowed chaos in the Middle East.  The fact that he has insisted that waterboarding is not torture, and by implication acceptable, should by itself be disqualifying for the job of Secretary of State.

He has supported keeping open the Guantánamo detention facility, arguing that detainees “should stay right where they are” and that the facility “is the right place for [detainees] from both a security and legal perspective.”  That is as wrong as it is disturbing.  The indefinite detention without trial of detainees at Guantánamo contradicts our most basic principles of justice, degrades our international standing, and harms our national security.  Mr. Pompeo’s position is particularly troubling given the President’s expressed intent to send new prisoners to Guantánamo for the first time in more than a decade.

Mr. Pompeo has opposed what he called the “disastrous” Iran nuclear agreement, and he appears to favor withdrawing from it despite the International Atomic Energy Agency’s determination that Iran is in compliance and support for the agreement from a wide spectrum of diplomatic, scientific, and national security experts.  As far as I am aware he has offered no realistic alternative, and the consequence would be to isolate the United States from our closest allies and to risk Iran restarting its centrifuges and quickly obtaining a nuclear weapon. 

During the negotiations to halt Iran’s nuclear program, Mr. Pompeo supported military strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities, reportedly arguing that it would take “under 2,000 sorties to destroy the Iranian nuclear capacity,” which he described as “not an insurmountable task for the coalition forces.”  It might not be insurmountable, except for the fact that it would be the end of the coalition since few, if any, of our partners would join us.  Beyond that, the unilateral use of preemptive military force on that scale in a volatile region in which Russia has its own security interests could ignite a regional war with far-reaching, possibly catastrophic, consequences.

While the world’s scientists overwhelmingly warn of the long-term dangers of climate change, Mr. Pompeo is an unabashed climate change sceptic.  He has said that the Paris Climate Agreement, which is supported by practically every country including China, amounted to “bowing down to radical environmentalists”.  That is extremist rhetoric about what many believe to be the most serious challenge facing our planet, a challenge that can only be met through diplomacy, and it belies a disturbing intolerance for opposing views.   

Mr. Pompeo has accused American Muslim leaders of being “potentially complicit” in acts of terrorism that they do not specifically condemn.  He has said that Muslims “abhor Christians,” and that they “will continue to press against us until we make sure that we pray and stand and fight and make sure that we know that Jesus Christ is our savior and is truly the only solution for our world.”  It would be hard to think of a more effective way to alienate the Muslim community, without whose help we cannot effectively counter violent extremism. 

As a Member of Congress, Mr. Pompeo cosponsored legislation to ban all refugee admissions, regardless of country of origin, even though people seeking safety are already subjected to a rigorous vetting process.  It should alarm each of us that the nominee to oversee the bureau charged with protecting refugees, migrants, and other vulnerable people uprooted by conflict – a tradition we take pride in – would take such a crass, ideological approach to our country’s refugee admissions policies.

Mr. Pompeo has suggested that the Federal government should collect records of American citizens’ communications, without warrants and in bulk, and combine them with “publicly available financial and lifestyle information into a comprehensive, searchable database.” Think about that, at a time when the public is already outraged by Facebook’s and Cambridge Analytica’s misuse of personal data.

As a Member of Congress, Mr. Pompeo criticized President Obama for going to Cuba, accusing him of making “unilateral concessions”.  It is true that the restoration of diplomatic relations with Cuba – which was overwhelmingly supported by the people of both countries – did not include an agreement by the Cuban government to hold free and fair elections, nor to stop persecuting opponents of the government.  No one who knows Cuba expected that.  But if free and fair elections and respect for human rights are Mr. Pompeo’s prerequisite for having an embassy and an ambassador in a foreign country we will need to close a lot more embassies than the one in Havana. 

We could begin with our embassies in China and Russia, Saudi Arabia and Egypt would be next, then Jordan and Morocco, Honduras, Vietnam, the list goes on.  The fact is we need embassies staffed with qualified personnel, including in countries whose governments we disagree with, so our diplomats can work to protect our interests and the interests of Americans who travel, study, work, or serve there.  That is diplomacy 101.

Mr. Pompeo opposes LGBT rights, and has no record of defending civil society activists and independent journalists who risk their lives speaking out against corruption and abuses of human rights by foreign security forces, particularly in countries we consider friends or allies.  He has also worked against women’s reproductive rights, including cosponsoring radical legislation that would make abortion illegal nationwide even in cases of rape.  He voted to defund Planned Parenthood, and for the “Global Gag Rule,” which prevents foreign nongovernmental organizations from receiving U.S. funds if they use their own money to provide safe abortions or even information about abortion services in their country.

Mr. President, I take no pleasure in opposing Mr. Pompeo’s nomination.  I wish I could vote for him, as I am the Ranking Member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Department of State and Foreign Operations.  I strongly support the State Department, its mission, its personnel, and its programs.  I have consistently defended its budget when others here, or in the White House, sought to cut it. 

I am pleased that Mr. Pompeo has said he wants to fill the vacant senior leadership positions at the State Department, and that he recognizes that the United States has a duty to “lead the calls for democracy, prosperity, and human rights around the world.”  But his record in Congress and his staunchly ideological views raise grave concerns about the policy direction he would give to those senior leaders.  And, given his record and beliefs, there is little reason to believe that he will be an effective or consistent defender of democracy and human rights abroad, particularly in the face of President Trump’s abandonment of those values and principles. 

In many other respects, Mr. Pompeo’s testimony before the Foreign Relations Committee had all the characteristics of a “confirmation conversion”, when he contradicted many of his previous statements and positions.  As Senator Menendez asked, which Pompeo are we voting for?  The job of Secretary of State is too important, especially with Donald Trump in the Oval Office, to roll the dice and discount everything Mr. Pompeo has said in the past.

If Mr. Pompeo is confirmed, as it appears he will be, I will make every effort to work with him to advance our foreign policy and national security interests, as I did with Secretary Tillerson after opposing his nomination.  But given the impulsive and reckless statements and actions of this President, and the upheaval at the State Department during the past year, we need a Secretary with the necessary temperament, values, and longstanding commitment to diplomacy and development.  I hope he proves me wrong, but today I do not believe we have that in this nominee.

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