Corker Leaves Democrats to Press Top Diplomat Nominee on Climate

By Dean Scott

Questions about the U.S.'s role in a global climate deal aimed at President Donald Trump’s pick for top diplomat will be left to Democrats at his confirmation hearing, a committee chairman said.

Republicans and Democrats alike hope to use the April 12 hearing to push CIA Director Mike Pompeo, the nominee for secretary of state, on when he might challenge the president on a host of issues that might require more diplomatic engagement.

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) told Bloomberg Environment that he will essentially leave it to Democrats, though, to press Pompeo on his views about climate science and whether he would support keeping the State Department at the table in talks on implementing the 2015 Paris climate deal, as former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson did.

Long-Standing Opposition

Pompeo’s opposition to the Paris climate accord is well known from his days as a Republican member of the House of Representatives from Kansas.

President Donald Trump announced in June 2017 that he plans to withdraw the U.S. from the agreement. The U.S. has so far remained in talks among the nearly 200 nations staying in the deal as they craft rules to implement it.

Pompeo opposed the Paris agreement in 2015, saying “Kansans and Americans shouldn’t be forced to shoulder the costly burden of President Obama’s careless attempt to secure his legacy.” He also has rejected the scientific consensus on climate change.

Corker generally backs staying in the climate negotiations, he said, given that the U.S. technically remains in the Paris pact for several years—the earliest it can formally leave is one day after the Nov. 3, 2020, presidential election.

“For us to be sitting at the table and talking with them about these issues—sure I think [that] is very important,” he said.

Couldn’t Have Picked Him From a Lineup

Pompeo is little known in diplomatic circles, Corker told Bloomberg Environment.

“I couldn’t have picked Pompeo out of a lineup, almost, before he was nominated,” Corker said. “I didn’t really know him,” Corker said of Trump’s pick to succeed Tillerson, the former Exxon CEO whom the president fired after just one year at the helm of the State Department.

Pompeo was confirmed as CIA director on a vote of 66-32 days after Trump’s inauguration in January 2017. His last confirmation hearing was before a different panel, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

Many of Corker’s foreign relations committee colleagues will be looking at broad themes, such as how Pompeo views the role of diplomacy versus military options in asserting U.S. interests around the world.

Looking for a Frank Adviser

A senior Foreign Relations Democrat, Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, told reporters he met with Pompeo April 10 and pushed the nominee to voice concerns where he differs with Trump forcefully as Defense Secretary James Mattis has done.

On climate change, Democrats want assurances from Pompeo that he will push the White House to stay at the table on Paris implementation, the senator said.

“He should be and I will certainly urge him,” Cardin said. But it will be Pompeo’s job, the senator said, to urge Trump to stay engaged on the climate deal.

“That’s what the chief diplomat of America should be doing and that’s what Secretary Tillerson did—not effectively, but that’s what he did,” the Democrat said.