CAPITOL HILL - Former CIA Director Mike Pompeo was sworn in as U.S. secretary of state Thursday after a divided Senate voted 57-42 to confirm President Donald Trump's nominee, with all Republicans backing him and all but six Democrats and one independent lawmaker opposed.
Trump hailed the confirmation and congratulated Pompeo on becoming the 70th person to be named America's top diplomat.
"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 crucial time in history," the president said in a statement.
Pompeo replaces Rex Tillerson, who was fired last month by Trump. His assumption of duties allows him to attend a NATO meeting Friday in Brussels, and hold bilateral talks with Turkish and Italian foreign ministers.
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The new secretary of state then heads to Israel, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said the stops were chosen to reflect their "importance as key allies and partners in the region."
The trip comes just hours after a contentious confirmation vote in the U.S. Senate. While Republican lawmakers were united behind Pompeo, most Democrats bemoaned what they saw as the nominee's history of warmongering rhetoric and antipathy to Muslims and gay people.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee's top Democrat, Bob Menendez of New Jersey, said he doubted Pompeo "would be willing to push back against the president's worst instincts" on world affairs.
As an example, Menendez noted key American allies are absorbing millions of refugees, and asked, "What will he [Pompeo] credibly say as this administration slashes our own refugee program, once a crown jewel of our foreign policy?"
Republicans, meanwhile, hailed Pompeo's resume and life accomplishments, from graduating at the top of his class at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point to studying law at Harvard to years representing Kansas in the House of Representatives.
Trump recently dispatched Pompeo to hold discussions with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ahead of a planned Trump-Kim nuclear summit.
Montana Republican Steve Daines said Pompeo already proved his worth as part of an administration that helped engineer what could prove to be a historic diplomatic opening.
"The administration's resolve and their diplomacy is what has brought Kim Jong Un to the negotiating table," Daines said. "The administration is moving toward a denuclearized North Korea, and Mike Pompeo has played a critical role in those efforts."
Republicans repeatedly urged strong bipartisan backing for Pompeo, pointing out that only two of their members voted against former President Barack Obama's first secretary of state nominee, Hillary Clinton, in 2009, and only three Senate Republicans voted against John Kerry for the post in 2013.
Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy insisted his decision to oppose Pompeo was not taken lightly.
"I do believe in a substantial amount of deference to the president in the choices that he makes to serve him in his administration," Murphy said before giving his reasons for voting against confirmation. "You need a secretary of state who truly believes that diplomacy can be a viable path out of very complicated problems ... I do not believe that Director Pompeo measures up."
Earlier this week, Pompeo risked becoming the first secretary of state nominee in modern times to fail to get a favorable recommendation from the Foreign Relations Committee. But Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky reversed his opposition to Pompeo shortly before the panel voted Monday, giving the nominee narrow majority support.