WASHINGTON – Overcoming a bruising confirmation fight, the Senate voted Thursday to confirm CIA Director Mike Pompeo as President Trump’s second secretary of state – but the first who Trump says shares his worldview and opinions on Iran, North Korea and other key concerns.
The vote was 57 to 42, an unusually low margin of approval for America’s top diplomat, a position that normally draws broad bipartisan support to give a president his chosen candidate to conduct foreign policy.
Pompeo was sworn in by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito and started work, taking off for Brussels to attend a meeting of NATO foreign ministers on Friday, according to Heather Nauert, the State Department spokeswoman.
Pompeo then will travel to Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, she said.
“I’m delighted to be secretary of State and completely humbled by the responsibility,” Pompeo said in a statement.
“I’m looking forward to serving the American people and getting to work right away.”
Trump said Pompeo has his trust and support.
“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 critical time in history,” he said in a statement from the White House.
Pompeo, 54, faces major diplomatic challenges in coming weeks, including whether Trump will follow through with his threat to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal by a self-imposed May 12 deadline, and planning for a potential nuclear summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un by mid-June.
The Senate vote reflected widespread Democratic opposition to Pompeo over his outspoken hawkish positions after he was elected to Congress in 2010 as a tea party Republican from Kansas and previous statements seen as biased against Muslims and gays, lesbians and transgender people.
Many opponents also worried that Pompeo would fail to serve as a counterbalance to what one Democratic senator called Trump’s “worst instincts.”
“I expect our chief diplomat to have a vision for diplomacy,” Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on the Senate floor ahead of the vote.
Pompeo “failed to express any tangible diplomatic strategism” during his confirmation hearing, Menendez said. “He failed to be forthright with the committee, and finally, I do not have a satisfactory answer to the question: Which Mike Pompeo am I being asked to vote on?”
Supporters said Pompeo’s seven years in Congress, and especially his last 15 months as CIA director, have prepared him to head the State Department.
Having the president’s ear, they said, will enhance his ability to influence foreign policy decisions.
In the end, seven members of the Senate Democratic caucus – including five who face reelection battles in November in states Trump won handily in 2016 – joined Senate Republicans to vote for confirmation.
The margin was unusual because Senate confirmation votes for secretary of State typically are lopsided.
Under President Barack Obama, John Kerry won Senate approval by a vote of 94 to 3 in 2013, and Hillary Clinton was approved by 94 to 2 in 2009.
President George W. Bush’s two picks also sailed through. Condoleezza Rice was confirmed by a vote of 85 to 13 in 2005, and Colin Powell was approved by acclamation in 2001.
Only Rex Tillerson, Trump’s first secretary of State, faced such substantial opposition. His confirmation vote last year was 56 to 43, with a large group of Democrats voting in opposition.
Trump fired Tillerson, a former CEO of Exxon Mobil, via Twitter last month after the two repeatedly clashed over the Iran deal and other policy issues.
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