Republican Sen. Rand Paul said Wednesday that he will oppose President Trump’s nominations of Mike Pompeo to be secretary of State and Gina Haspel to be CIA director.
The Kentucky senator said he would do everything he can to block the nominees, and did not rule out the possibility of mounting a filibuster. He serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which will vote on whether to recommend Pompeo’s confirmation to the full Senate.
Paul’s opposition — the first announced by a Republican senator — underscores that both of Trump’s nominees face contentious confirmation hearings in the Senate.
The senator said he cannot vote for either candidate based on their past support for using torture techniques to interrogate enemy combatants and suspected terrorists. That issue is at the heart of the controversy over both nominees, and has already led several Democrats — including Ron Wyden of Oregon and Tammy Duckworth of Illinois — to come out against them.
Paul said he is opposing Haspel, the CIA’s current deputy director, because she participated in the agency’s torture program under former president George W. Bush. She also reportedly ran a secret prison in Thailand in 2002 where terrorism suspects were waterboarded and subjected to other so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques.”
Shortly after Haspel became deputy director, senators also raised questions about her drafting of a cable that called for the destruction of taped CIA interrogations in 2002 at that secret Thai prison.
“I find it just amazing that anyone would consider having this woman at the head of the CIA,” Paul said, citing reports that Haspel showed “joyful glee at someone who is being tortured.”
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam, also has expressed misgivings about Haspel, but supports Pompeo.
“The torture of detainees in U.S. custody during the last decade was one of the darkest chapters in American history,” McCain said Tuesday. “Ms. Haspel needs to explain the nature and extent of her involvement in the CIA’s interrogation program during the confirmation process.”
Paul, who was the lone GOP vote against confirming Pompeo to be CIA director in 2017, said he opposes Pompeo’s nomination to be Secretary of State because Pompeo has said that he did not consider “enhanced interrogation techniques” to be torture.
During his confirmation hearing to be CIA director last year, Pompeo said he would “absolutely not” bring back those techniques. However, in response to written questions from members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, he said he would review the ban on waterboarding if the ban was shown to impede the collection of “vital intelligence.”
Paul also objected to Pompeo’s support for the Iraq War and his hawkish position on Iran. Pompeo has said that military strikes on Tehran would be more effective than diplomacy.
“I’m perplexed by the nomination of people who love the Iraq War so much that they would advocate for a war with Iran next,” Paul said. “I think it goes against most of the things President Trump campaigned on.”
As a candidate, Trump criticized Democrat Hillary Clinton’s support for the Iraq War and pledged to stop dragging the U.S. into foreign conflicts.
Paul’s opposition to Pompeo could prevent the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from approving him. Republicans have a slim 11-10 advantage on the committee, and Paul’s “no” vote could allow Democrats to vote down Pompeo’s nomination. However, Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., could still ask Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to bring the nomination to the Senate floor for a vote.
The Senate voted 66-32 in January 2017 to confirm Pompeo as CIA director, and Republicans believe they will be able to muster at least the 51 votes needed to confirm him as secretary of State. Haspel’s fate appears less certain.
Trump nominated Pompeo and Haspel for the new jobs Tuesday, after abruptly firing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.