How do you write an endorsement for an individual without ever actually, y’know, endorsing the individual? The Washington Post editorial board took the Oscar Wilde approach today in its message to the US Senate. The only thing worse than confirming Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State would be to have Donald Trump managing American diplomacy on his own, they argue:
President Trump is contemplating military strikes against Syria while also pushing for a U.S. pullout; he has committed to attempting to negotiate a nuclear deal with North Korea while threatening to repudiate the nuclear pact with Iran. He is waging a trade war against China and Japan while counting on their strategic cooperation against the regime of Kim Jong Un. And he is doing all this with a badly depleted national security apparatus: Dozens of senior positions are vacant at the State Department, and the newly arrived national security adviser, John Bolton, has started with a purge of senior staff at the White House. …
Democrats who pressed Mr. Pompeo on his record, including his questionable statements about Muslims, have legitimate concerns. But rejecting or delaying his nomination, as Mr. Trump juggles multiple crises without adequate counsel, probably would make an already parlous situation worse.
Oddly enough, the endorsement from the WaPo editorial board doesn’t contain a single positive mention of Pompeo’s abilities or achievements, which one would normally find in an endorsement. The closest they come to it is by noting that Pompeo sounded willing to contradict his boss at times in his testimony, comparing him to Rex Tillerson. They also sound hopeful that Pompeo would return to promotion of democracy as a tool of diplomacy, “an idea that neither Mr. Tillerson nor Mr. Trump has supported.”
Otherwise, the entire argument rests on the idea that Pompeo is better than nothing at all. That’s undeniably true under any circumstances, with any president, however. The presidency reaches the zenith of its plenary power in foreign policy, but presidents are by and large too busy to focus on just diplomatic relationships, and are often required to take steps that test and tax those alliances. The State Department exists to manage and cultivate ties between the US and the rest of the world, and the Secretary of State focuses on it full time. It’s clearly more pressing with Trump, given all the distractions at home, but it’s still not a unique situation.
It’s a shame that the Post didn’t do more to endorse Pompeo on his own, because he’s an impressive candidate. Pompeo has served with distinction in the House in oversight over intelligence issues, and has done a good job in a relatively short time running the CIA. He comes into the job with broad knowledge of the global issues he’ll have to tackle at State, unlike Tillerson, who seemed overmatched from the beginning. Pompeo will also have a better grasp of the need to fill slots to gain control over the mechanics of the bureaucracy he’ll be running.
Is the Post’s argument enough to get the one or two Democrats Pompeo will need to win confirmation? The Los Angeles Times thinks so:
Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) pressed Pompeo on past statements that critics called anti-Muslim, as well as his views on gay rights. Pompeo responded that he personally opposes same-sex marriage but that he respected equality in the workplace and would not tolerate discrimination against Muslims or gay people.
Pompeo sidestepped a question about Trump’s harsh rhetoric toward Mexico, saying only that he hoped to develop a relationship that “benefits both countries, especially ours.”
One Republican on the Senate committee, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, has said he will oppose Pompeo’s nomination because of his past defense of harsh CIA interrogation tactics that critics called torture.
Unless Pompeo gains the vote of at least one Democrat on the panel, his nomination probably would move to the full Senate “without recommendation.” He is likely to win confirmation there, but not without more debate.
Perhaps they’ll realize that Pompeo is at least better than the alternative. That sells Pompeo short, but at least it will likely make the sale.