WASHINGTON (AFP) - CIA director Mike Pompeo's nomination to be US secretary of state ran into trouble on Wednesday (April 18), even as it emerged he had secretly met with North Korea's Kim Jong Un on Donald Trump's behalf.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee appeared poised to vote to reject Pompeo after the top Democrat on the panel announced his opposition.
Republicans said they would take the nomination to a vote by the entire Senate anyway in a rarely used manoeuvre they predict would result in approval of the president's choice for top diplomat.
"Whatever happens in that committee, Mike Pompeo will be confirmed in the Senate next week," Republican Senator Tom Cotton told journalists.
Cotton warned a rejection would send a "a very bad sign" to other countries, especially North Korea, and "possibly set back the preparations, perhaps even the results" of the Trump-Kim summit being planned for May or June.
The US president himself lavished praise on his nominee - hours after confirming Pompeo's trip early this month to meet the reclusive Kim, the latest in a series of revelations that have raised hopes of a breakthrough in the nuclear standoff.
"I think Mike Pompeo is extraordinary," Trump said. "I think he will go down as a great secretary of state."
The president was equally effusive about Pompeo's outreach to North Korea, saying he "had a great meeting with Kim Jong Un and got along with him really well, really great."
"He is that kind of guy, he is really smart but he gets along with people."
But a week after Pompeo underwent a five-hour grilling by Senate committee, the unofficial vote count was 10-9 against him Wednesday, with one Republican, Senator Rand Paul, breaking with his party to oppose the nominee.
One Democrat and one Republican senator remained undecided.
"I will cast a NO vote for Director Mike Pompeo to be Secretary of State," the panel's senior Democrat Bob Menendez announced.
In his confirmation hearing, Menendez said, "Director Pompeo did little to assuage my concerns about the administration's deafening lack of strategic vision for any of our major global challenges."
Menendez also cited Pompeo's personal record, mentioning his "preference for military action" over diplomacy, and allegedly "egregious" statements against Muslims and equality for women and members of the LGBTQ community.
"I believe our nation's top diplomat must be forthright, and, more critically, his past sentiments do not reflect our nation's values, and are not acceptable for our nation's top diplomat. The American people deserve better," he said.
Trump tapped the 54-year-old Pompeo to become secretary of state after firing Rex Tillerson - with whom the president was frequently at odds.
Pompeo, meanwhile, has used his one year as the country's top spy to build a close relationship with Trump.
Critics, however, say Pompeo has tailored intelligence reports to please the president - rather than give him a straightforward picture of US security issues.
They also say Pompeo's past statements show a preference for military action over diplomacy.
Cotton rejected that, citing Pompeo's trip to Pyongyang.
"Now that he has actually sat down with Kim Jong Un, I think that is the best evidence that he is committed to diplomacy." Passing the nomination in a full Senate vote is not assured, however, and Pompeo himself was on Capitol Hill Wednesday to lobby for support from Democrats.
Republicans have a slight edge over Democrats in the Senate, 51 to 49.
But with Rand Paul opposed to Pompeo, and Senator John McCain hospitalised in a battle with brain cancer and possibly unable to vote, the Republicans would need some Democratic support.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders urged Democrats Wednesday to "put politics aside, acknowledge our national security is too important, and confirm Mike Pompeo."