President Donald Trump on Wednesday morning confirmed the big news from Tuesday night, tweeting, “Mike Pompeo met with Kim Jong Un in North Korea last week. Meeting went very smoothly and a good relationship was formed.” The secret meeting, which actually took place over Easter weekend, according to officials, makes Pompeo the highest-ranking U.S. official to meet with the North Korean government since then–Secretary of State Madeleine Albright met Kim Jong-il in 2000.
But back home, things are looking rockier for Pompeo, who now appears unlikely to receive the confirmation endorsement of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Pompeo is still likely to become secretary of state—even without majority support the committee can still send his nomination to the Senate floor, where he will probably be confirmed—but it is a rare rebuke. No secretary of state, that we know of, has ever been approved without the committee’s endorsement. (Prior to the 1920s, Senate committee business was mostly conducted in closed session, without public records.)
The committee comprises 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats. Republican Sen. Rand Paul has already indicated he will vote against Pompeo. Sens. Tim Kaine and Jeanne Shaheen, the Democratic members of the committee who backed Pompeo for CIA director last year, said this week that they will not support him as secretary of state. In a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington on Wednesday morning, Sen. Robert Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the committee, also said he would cast a “no” vote, “I believe the American people deserve better” and that Pompeo’s testimony before the committee last week “did little to assuage my concerns about the administration’s lack of strategic vision for any of our major global challenges.” He specifically cited concerns about strategy in Syria and plans for the Iran nuclear deal. He also noted lingering questions about Pompeo’s role in the Russia investigation and his lack of contrition for past statements about Muslims and LGBTQ people. A staunch critic of Obama’s Iran deal and diplomatic opening to Cuba, Menendez is one of the more hawkish Democrats in the Senate, and his opposition suggests that the party’s opposition to Pompeo is likely to be near universal.
Menendez also addressed Pompeo’s North Korea trip, saying, “even in his private conversations with me, he didn’t tell me about his visit to North Korea. I don’t expect diplomacy to be negotiated out in the open, but I do expect for someone who is the nominee for secretary of state, when he speaks with committee leadership, and when he was asked specific questions about North Korea, to share some insights about such a visit.”
Any insights, from anyone, about the administration’s negotiating strategy, would certainly be welcome right now. Trump said at Mar-a-Lago on Tuesday that he had given his “blessing” to planned discussions between North and South Korea about bringing an official end to the Korean war—which has been under an armistice since 1953—and continues to tout out the prospect of full “denuclearization” of the Korean peninsula, without indicating what concessions the U.S. is willing to make to achieve that. (North Korea’s demands could include anything from the lifting of sanctions to a halt of U.S.–South Korean military exercises or the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the peninsula.)
It appears Pompeo is already laying the groundwork for these discussions but is likely to do so without the customary endorsement of Congress.