As Michael Pompeo’s nomination for secretary of state wound its way through the Senate confirmation process, a spotlight shined on the unfortunate hyper-partisanship afflicting Congress these days. The opposition to Pompeo from Senate Democrats reflects a historic shift from the bipartisanship that has characterized the nominations of previous secretaries of state.
It’s worth taking a look at Pompeo’s qualifications to judge his fitness for the office. He didn’t just squeak through the famed U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He graduated first in his class, joining an elite group of West Point first-rankers that includes Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Not bad company, I’d say.
After a distinguished military career, Pompeo went to Harvard Law School. Again, he didn’t just slide through, but was one of the editors of the prestigious Harvard Law Review, joining other distinguished scholars who have held that high honor, including former President Obama.
After Harvard Law, Pompeo spent a dozen years in the business world, successfully heading aerospace and energy companies. Then, in 2010, he won a seat in Congress, where he represented a Kansas district for four terms and was a member of the important U.S. House Intelligence Committee. His work there caught the attention of President-elect Donald Trump, who nominated Pompeo to be director of the CIA. His nomination was approved by the Senate by a 3-to-1 margin.
At the CIA, Pompeo has again proven himself to be an effective leader, getting high marks from both the career intelligence community he heads and outside observers. In the process he has also won the confidence of President Trump, with near daily briefings in which he lays out the world situation.
Given his background and the rapport he has developed with Trump, it’s easy to understand why the president nominated Pompeo to head the State Department. It is infamous for its endless bureaucratic infighting and sluggish responses to fast-paced world events. It is a top-heavy organization plagued by too many overlapping committees and too many “corridor walkers” who seem to be mostly waiting for the next step up the foreign service ladder. Reorganizing and energizing this staid bureaucracy should be a prime objective of the next secretary, and Pompeo’s positive experience running an equally cumbersome bureaucracy at the CIA bodes well for his management of the nation’s diplomats.
Beyond managing the State Department’s sclerotic inner workings, Pompeo will also show a strong U.S. face to the world on major diplomatic fronts. It is no coincidence that Trump recently deputized him to make a top-secret trip to North Korea to set the stage for the Trump’s upcoming meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Pompeo’s visit undoubtedly sent a strong signal to the North Koreans that the summit is critically important to U.S.-North Korean relations, and that Trump will have a decisive and clear-eyed adviser at his side during the talks who will help keep the negotiations on a productive path.
Given all of the reasons why Pompeo is so thoroughly qualified and prepared to serve as secretary of state, he should have been a shoo-in for confirmation. Instead, his nomination was buffeted by harsh political headwinds, with Senate Democrats opposing the nomination at every turn. This opposition flies in the face of Senate tradition and history. In all my years as a senator, nominees for secretary of state were routinely approved by near-unanimous margins, whether proposed by Republican or Democratic presidents. More recently, the nominations of John Kerry and Hillary Clinton — who both had credentials and experience similar to Pompeo’s — received overwhelming Senate approval. Politics was put aside in favor of fairness.
Even those who may differ with the political philosophy of presidential nominees have an obligation to confirm their nominations without clouding the decisions with partisan bias. As my good friend Sen. Lindsey Graham said in explaining his vote in favor of Obama-era nominees with whom he disagreed philosophically, “Elections have consequences … what you do today can set the tone for tomorrow.” In other words, the president’s nominees deserve congressional deference, because in the final analysis, their nominations reflect the electorate’s judgment. It’s the American way.
Al D’Amato, a former U.S. senator from New York, is the founder of Park Strategies LLC, a public policy and business development firm. Comments about this column? ADAmato@liherald.com.