As members of the U.S. Senate consider how to vote on CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s nomination to be secretary of state, they should take one particularly persuasive quote to heart: “My general rule is that the president gets to choose who he wants or who she wants for their Cabinet members.”
Those words weren’t uttered by an official inside the Trump administration or one of their allies outside. Rather, they are the words of former Vice President Joe Biden, who served with President Obama and spent decades in the Senate, including several years atop the very foreign relations committee charged with vetting Pompeo’s nomination.
Funny thing about Washington: While nearly everyone pays lip service to presidential prerogatives when a president from their party occupies the White House, they become less deferential when the president leads the other party. If anything riles the American public, it’s blatant political hypocrisy. And when it comes to executive branch nominations, hypocrisy in Washington has reached a fevered pitch.
At No Labels, we don’t often take a position on who should serve in a president’s Cabinet. But we have a major problem with how the presidential nomination process is being abused.
In 2011, No Labels released our “Make Congress Work!” reform agenda, in which we wrote: “When our Founders gave the Senate ‘Advise and Consent’ power over presidential appointments, they hoped it would encourage the president to appoint qualified people and avoid conflicts of interest. Today, it’s the senators themselves who seem to have conflicts of interest, with key presidential appointments routinely held up for trivial reasons or to serve the narrow interests of a single senator.” We noted at the time the egregious example of Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby putting a blanket hold on 70 Obama administration nominees in order to secure additional funding for his state.
This behavior was wrong then. It’s wrong now. The president is the elected leader of the country, chosen by the nation’s citizens through a democratic process to run the executive branch. Unless someone is blatantly unqualified or ethically suspect, we share former Vice President Biden’s principled standard that the president should get to choose his or her Cabinet officials and advisers.
You may disagree with CIA Director Pompeo’s political views. You may take issue with his approach to foreign policy. But if you’re a member of the U.S. Senate, those disagreements simply aren’t compelling grounds to oppose his nomination.
Aside from leading the CIA, Pompeo is also a former congressman who served on the Harvard Law Review and finished first in his class at West Point. He is clearly qualified to run the State Department.
He also has the president’s trust, as evidenced by his being chosen by Trump to make a top-secret visit to North Korea earlier this month to meet with its leader, Kim Jong Un.
In the next few months, Trump is likely to meet directly with Kim to discuss North Korea’s destabilizing nuclear program. It could be the most significant and consequential negotiation on the Korean peninsula since the end of the Korean War.
Wouldn’t America’s best interests be served by our president having a trusted secretary of state by his side? More than a few senators apparently don’t think so.
Mike Pompeo might not have been the choice any number of the nation’s senators would have made had they been elected president. But that’s the point—they weren’t elected president. Donald Trump was and that means giving him some degree of deference when choosing who serves in his Cabinet.
None of this is to say that Congress needs to rubber-stamp every nominee. The Founders required senatorial advice and consent for a reason. But in the case of Pompeo, as with so many during the Obama years, this seems once again like nothing more than political posturing.
Only now, the cost of this posturing is rising. America is challenged by North Korean nukes, a resurgent Russia and Iran and an unfolding catastrophe in Syria, just to name a few of the world’s metastasizing problems.
Many senators are fond of the saying that there are moments when one needs to put “country over party.” This is one of those moments.