CAPITOL HILL - Averting a historic rebuke, a Senate panel on Monday narrowly voted in favor of U.S. President Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of state, CIA director Mike Pompeo, with Kentucky Republican Rand Paul reversing his opposition to the nominee at the last minute.
Pompeo risked becoming the first secretary of state nominee in modern times to fail to get a favorable recommendation from the 21-member Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as Paul and all 10 Democrats on the panel had announced they would oppose him.
But as the panel prepared to vote, Paul made a dramatic announcement.
“I have changed my mind. I have decided to go ahead and vote for director Pompeo,” the Kentucky senator said, explaining that he had been reassured by conversations with the nominee, as well as Trump, concerning the lessons of the Iraq War and other issues of concern to him.
Soon thereafter, the committee narrowly voted to favorably recommend Pompeo to the full Senate, which is expected to confirm him as America’s top diplomat by week’s end.
WATCH: Pompeo vote
?Delaware Democrat Chris Coons opposed Pompeo but agreed to vote present — neither for nor against the nominee — to compensate for the absence of a Republican on the committee, Johnny Isakson of Georgia.
Democrats insisted Pompeo is ill-suited to be America’s top diplomat, noting he repeatedly advocated military solutions in the world’s hotspots as a congressman before Trump tapped him to lead the CIA.
“I do not believe director Pompeo is someone who will always prioritize diplomacy over conflict,” the committee’s top Democrat, Bob Menendez of New Jersey, said. “I’m particularly concerned because of his past comments on regime change in North Korea and Iran.”
Republicans noted Pompeo’s accomplishments, from graduating at the top of his class at the U.S. military academy at West Point to attending Harvard Law School to his brief tenure as CIA director.
“I can’t imagine having someone more qualified be secretary of state [than Pompeo],” the committee’s chairman, Republican Bob Corker of Tennessee said.
The nomination will go to the full Senate, where three Democrats have announced they will join Republicans in voting to confirm Pompeo.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, spoke confidently of Pompeo’s ultimate confirmation.
“In Mike Pompeo, the United States will have a chief diplomat who enjoys the total confidence of the president and who is uniquely qualified to reinvigorate our foreign service and represent our interests abroad,” McConnell said.
Trump recently sent Pompeo to Pyongyang to meet with North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un in advance of Trump's planned summit with Kim to discuss the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
“He (Pompeo) is trusted by the president,” Tennessee Republican Lamar Alexander told VOA. “He was a logical person to send to North Korea. You’d want to send someone who the North Koreans knew had the president’s ear, and he obviously does.”