Six Democrats and one independent voted to confirm former CIA director Mike Pompeo as the 70th US secretary of state — and the second to serve under President Donald Trump.
Despite objections from dozens of Democrats who have expressed concern about his record of hawkish foreign policy positions and controversial comments about Muslims, the Republican-controlled Senate narrowly voted 57 to 42 to approve Pompeo as the nation's top diplomat.
Pompeo's schedule is already full and his earliest tests as secretary of state will play out on the world stage. Pompeo's confirmation was expedited to Thursday, immediately after the vote, to ensure he would be able to attend a Friday conference of NATO allies in Brussels as the newly-confirmed secretary of state.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders celebrated by tweeting the first photos of Pompeo with North Korea's Kim Jong Un.
Ahead of Pompeo's confirmation, his supporters emphasized his resume as a West Point and Harvard Law School graduate and former congressman who enjoys a close relationship with the president, especially on matters related to North Korea. As C.I.A. director, Pomepo traveled to Pyongyang over Easter and secretly met with leader Kim Jong Un. Democrats have criticized the move as presumptuous.
"He's the perfect person to come in at this time and lead those efforts" on North Korea, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said on the Senate floor moments before Pompeo was confirmed. But as recently as Monday, it appeared Pompeo would be guaranteed to receive an unfavorable recommendation by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Then Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky dropped his opposition to endorse him.
Pompeo was eventually endorsed by all the Republican senators and by six Democrats. The Democrats who supported him included several up for re-election in conservative-leaning states, including Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
Pompeo's opponents had cautioned that his hawkish foreign policy views and inflammatory comments about gay marriage and Islam made him ill-equipped to serve as the nation's top diplomat. Pompeo used his confirmation hearing to try to soften that image, edging away from past comments about regime change in North Korea.
"If there's no chance that we can fix it, I will recommend to the president that we work with our allies to achieve a better outcome and to achieve a better deal," Pompeo said in his confirmation hearing earlier this month.
Pompeo's earliest tests as secretary of state will play out in the first few weeks of his tenure on the world stage.
His schedule is already packed, with looming deadlines in the coming weeks involving Israel, North Korea, Syria and Venezuela. And he must manage these challenges while trying to fix a weakened and disillusioned State Department after a tumultuous first year under Rex W. Tillerson, the former Exxon Mobil CEO who was ousted by President Trump on Twitter last month and who left key diplomatic positions unfilled. Pompeo will also deal with the challenges of answering for a president who is prone to impulsiveness.
Pompeo will have to soon advise President Trump on whether to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and re-impose sanctions on Tehran. Pompeo, a notable Iran critic, has long criticized the 2015 nuclear agreement and has praised Trump's efforts to impose new sanctions on Iran. A decision must be made by May 12,
On May 14, the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem is scheduled to open. Trump's announcement that the embassy would be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was overwhelmingly condemned by the United Nations, and it will be up to Pompeo to execute plans to build a bigger embassy so all the employees from Tel Aviv can work there.
In addition to those major issues, Pompeo will have to define a strategy in Syria, decide whether to launch a trade war with China, and decide whether to impose new sanctions against Venezuela after the expected re-election of President Nicolas Maduro on May 20 in a campaign widely considered as "illegitimate" and "undemocratic."
In those and other matters, Pompeo is expected to guide Trump's foreign policy in a more right-leaning direction than Tillerson, whose attempts to steer the president toward diplomacy caused him to develop a rocky relationship with the president that often left them publicly at odds.