WASHINGTON — Despite the kind words exchanged across the aisle at inaugural ceremonies Friday, a political scuffle in the Senate is roiling over the confirmation process for Donald Trump’s nominee to be CIA director.
It started when a top Senate Republican accused Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of breaking an agreement to confirm Rep. Mike Pompeo to head the spy agency once Trump was sworn-in Friday.
“We had a deal with Schumer, but apparently he’s broken that,” Senate intelligence committee Chairman Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican, told CNN.
As he headed into Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office for a pre-inaugural meeting to discuss the issue, Burr said that he had agreed to a Democratic request to change by one day the intelligence committee’s confirmation hearing for Pompeo in exchange for Schumer’s word that the nominee would be voted on by the Senate on Inauguration Day.
But a senior Senate Democratic aide disputed Burr’s assertion that was agreed to by Schumer and said the Pompeo hearing was moved from Wednesday to Thursday last week to accommodate Democratic senators who were stretched thin between multiple confirmation hearings that same day.
Hoping to diffuse the situations, Schumer said Pompeo would be confirmed Monday after Democrats had a chance to debate Pompeo’s nomination and he urged Vice President Mike Pence to keep top CIA leaders in place until Pompeo is installed.
“While members of the Senate give Rep. Pompeo’s nomination the careful consideration it deserves, Sen. Schumer has asked Vice President Pence to keep Director Brennan on the job over the weekend,” Schumer spokesman Matt House said Friday in response to Burr’s comments. “Just as Director Hayden served as a bridge between the Bush and Obama presidencies eight years ago, Director Brennan could play the same role for the incoming and outgoing administrations, if the President is willing to keep him on.”
But McConnell’s office said Friday afternoon they have been formally informed that CIA director John Brennan and the deputy director have resigned, underscoring Republicans’ desire for CIA Director nominee Mike Pompeo to be confirmed today. Meroe Park, a career CIA officer, is now the agency’s acting director.
Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, tweeted that the Senate should stay in session all night and weekend to confirm Pompeo, a Kansas Republican, and other members of the Trump Cabinet.
Sen. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican and member of the intelligence committee, was overheard in a Capitol corridor informing several other GOP senators about the issue and firing them up to fight Schumer.
“I hope we’ll stay in session for as long as it takes to get Rep. Pompeo confirmed,” Cotton said in an interview a few minutes later.
Wyden rejected having a debate Friday night, as much of official Washington turns its attention to the Trump’s inaugural balls.
“We’re going to have a debate when much of the Senate is tucking themselves into their tuxedos? It doesn’t make sense,” Wyden said in an interview. “I’m very willing to have a vote on Monday after we have a debate when senators can pay attention so that’s what were talking about.”
Democrats argued that a CIA director had never before been confirmed on Inauguration Day and that Pompeo has controversial views on surveillance and other issues that need to be debated on the floor.
In a statement Wyden, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, explained their position.
“The importance of the position of CIA Director, especially in these dangerous times, demands that the nomination be thoroughly vetted, questioned and debated. Moreover, the Agency is capable of protecting the nation and serving the president under the leadership of its senior professional personnel. Certainly the incoming administration acknowledges that this would be consistent with their decision to hold over 50 current administration national security appointees,” the said.