Republican Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul said Wednesday that he intends to oppose President Donald Trump’s nominations of Mike Pompeo as secretary of state and Gina Haspel as the next CIA director, complicating their confirmation process in the Senate where Republicans have a very slim majority.
“I’m perplexed by the nominations of people who loved the Iraq War so much they advocate for war with Iran,” Paul told reporters on Capitol Hill in explaining his opposition to the nominees.
The announcement doesn’t necessarily block the pair’s paths to confirmation. Paul sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where Republicans hold a one-seat advantage, so if Paul carries out his threat to vote “no” — and all Democrats vote against him — Senate Republican leaders would need to decide if they would move the nominations to the floor without committee approval.
Republicans hold a narrow 51-49 advantage in the Senate, so Paul’s opposition — and possible opposition to Haspel from Arizona GOP Sen. John McCain — means Republicans might need to rely on some support from Democrats.
Democratic aides said it was too early in the process to know if any Democrats will back either nomination.
About Pompeo and Haspel, Paul said at his news conference their support for the Iraq War and Haspel’s “joyful glee” of waterboarding prompted his move.
“To really appoint the head cheerleader for waterboarding to be head of CIA, I mean, how could you trust somebody who did that to be in charge of the CIA,” he said. “To read of her glee during the waterboarding is just absolutely appalling.”
Paul’s comments are a reference to Haspel being a CIA veteran who was intricately involved in the execution of George W. Bush-era CIA interrogation programs, including those carried out at a “black site” prison she reportedly ran. Haspel oversaw the torture of two terrorism suspects and her name was on a cable giving instructions to destroy video evidence documenting their interrogations, according to The New York Times. One of the suspects was reportedly waterboarded 83 times in one month.
Paul said he has not spoken to the President about his opposition to Pompeo and Haspel, and that while he does support the President and his policies, “Most of the people being appointed are still in favor of Iraq War,” Paul said. “These are the crazy neo conservatives.”
Paul noted that McCain has also voiced some misgivings, but wouldn’t say if he believes the ailing senators would join him in voting against the nominees.
However, “If he were to say no, it might be enough” to kill the nomination.