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By Dean Scott
CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who didn’t appear to break a sweat fending off climate change questions at his confirmation hearing last year, should expect a barrage of them from Democrats as he seeks confirmation as the nation’s top diplomat.
Pompeo dodged questions about his views on climate change at his January 2017 Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing for the CIA job. Now he will return to the same panel in the months ahead as it considers his nomination to be Trump’s next secretary of state, and Democrats say that job will require closer scrutiny of his position.
Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said in a March 13 statement that the committee expects to hold Pompeo’s hearing in April but didn’t give a date. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who was ousted by President Donald Trump, said he was staying on until March 31.
A lot has changed since the Senate confirmed Pompeo 66-32 last year. During that time the Trump administration essentially zeroed out international climate funding, began rolling back Obama-era carbon pollution limits for power plants, and announced the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate pact.
Pompeo should expect a grilling on all things climate this time around, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a backer of climate action who sits on the Foreign Relations panel, told Bloomberg Environment. Murphy said he didn’t pursue the matter at Pompeo’s CIA nomination hearing.
“But rest assured it’s different doing a nomination hearing for [secretary of] State almost 15 months in than say 15 days in,” Murphy said.
Trump “doesn’t value diplomacy—he’s made that clear in a myriad of ways,” he said, and the experience of the last year will “fine tune” Democratic questions this time around for Pompeo.
The top-ranking Democrat on Foreign Relations, Sen. Bob Menendez (N.J.), said at a March 13 foreign relations committee hearing that Pompeo should expect “a full vetting before the committee,” adding that there “is a vast difference between being the CIA director and being the secretary of state.”
Pompeo in a 2013 interview with C-SPAN’s Washington Journal said “the science [of climate change] needs to continue to develop,” adding, “There’s some who think we’re warming, there’s some who think we’re cooling, there’s some who think that the last 16 years have shown a pretty stable climate environment.”
The scientific consensus is that the Earth is warming, mainly as a result of the use of fossil fuels. NOAA reported that 2017 was the third warmest for the global average temperature in the 138 years of record keeping, following the warmest year in 2016 and second-warmest in 2015.
In his January 2017 confirmation hearing for the CIA post, Pompeo deflected questions on climate change that were asked mainly by Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.). Pompeo said he wanted to avoid “getting into the details of climate debate and science” and that he couldn’t render “any judgment” on NASA studies documenting rising global temperatures.
Pompeo, a former Republican House member from Kansas, had a conservative voting record on energy and environment issues since his first election in 2010, when Republicans took control of the chamber.
The League of Conservation Voters gave him a 4 out of 100 lifetime score, among the lowest in the House, for his votes on environmental and energy issues over his six years in the chamber.
Taken as a whole, the CIA head’s views are much closer to Trump’s than Tillerson’s were. Pompeo opposed the 2015 Paris Agreement—which Tillerson backed.
Referring to it in a December 2015 statement, he said, “Kansans and Americans shouldn’t be forced to shoulder the costly burden of President Obama’s careless attempt to secure his legacy.”
Pompeo also opposed the Obama administration’s chief climate policy, the Clean Power Plan.
It’s unclear whether Democrats would have votes to block him. Pompeo only needs a simple majority to be confirmed, and a 50-50 vote would go in his favor with Vice President Mike Pence’s ability to break a tie. Republicans control the Senate 51-49.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the second-ranking Democrat, told reporters he “wouldn’t go that far” as to guarantee his party would vote against Pompeo across the board.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Tenn.) told reporters that while “senators can hold nominees to whatever standards they choose to,” Republicans expect Trump’s picks will “not be subjected to undue delay.”
McConnell echoed long-running Republican complaints that Trump’s nominees have “been treated much more harshly than any administration in anybody’s memory.”
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