Lawmakers want US Sec of State nominee to stand up to Trump

Senators at confirmation hearing of new US secretary of state concerned about his ability to stand up for what he believes in

WASHINGTON: US senators attending CIA director Mike Pompeo's confirmation hearing yesterday to become the next secretary of state said one of their main questions is: Will he be able to stand up to US President Donald Trump?

Mr Trump nominated Mr Pompeo to become the country's top diplomat on March 13 when he fired Mr Rex Tillerson.

In his remarks, Mr Pompeo was expected to signal a harder line toward Moscow, while also delving into US foreign policy challenges on North Korea, Iran and China, according to excerpts of his opening statement released in advance by the White House.

Mr Pompeo's nomination comes as the Trump administration weighs military action in Syria over a suspected poison gas attack, which killed dozens of people and injured hundreds in the town of Douma.

Mr Trump forged a warm relationship with Mr Pompeo during White House meetings over the first year of his presidency and feels the former Republican congressman shares more of his view of the world than Mr Tillerson, who at times disagreed with the president.

Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said they would press Mr Pompeo on the administration's strategy on Syria, relations with Russia, North Korea's nuclear ambitions and plans for dealing with China's growing international influence.

But senators said a major concern was whether Mr Pompeo would break from Mr Trump or convince him to change his mind when needed.

"His reputation is not that strong on standing up to the president," Senator Ben Cardin, the ranking foreign relations Democrat, told reporters after meeting with Mr Pompeo.

"It is very important to me to know that the next secretary of state will stand up for what he believes in and represent the advice and expertise of the State Department," Mr Cardin said.

Mr Cardin voted against Mr Pompeo as CIA director but said he had not made up his mind about the position at the State Department.

Republicans and Democrats have criticised the Trump administration for seeking sharp cuts in the State Department budget and failing to fill a host of diplomatic positions.

While Mr Pompeo will likely be confirmed by the full Senate if his hearing goes well, he could be the first nominee to be secretary of state not to be approved by the foreign relations committee, where the Republicans have just an 11-10 majority.

Republican Senator Rand Paul is already a no, citing what he called Mr Pompeo's support for war and past record on interrogations.

Senator Bob Corker, the committee's Republican chairman, said it was too early to tell how the vote would go.

The date for the vote in the full Senate has not been set but is likely in the coming weeks. - REUTERS