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Conservative View On Mike Pompeo At State

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

President Trump's pick to replace Rex Tillerson as secretary of state faced a tough confirmation hearing last week. But that was before the revelation that the nominee, Mike Pompeo, who's currently the director of the CIA, secretly traveled to North Korea to meet Kim Jong Un. Could that act of diplomacy convince skeptical Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee? So far, it doesn't seem like it, and that means the panel could send the nomination to the Senate floor with an unfavorable recommendation. That would be a first for a secretary of state since committee votes were made public in the 1920s. I want to chat now with Noah Rothman. He writes for the conservative Commentary Magazine.

Noah, welcome.

NOAH ROTHMAN: Thank you very much for having me.

GREENE: So what are Mike Pompeo's diplomatic credentials to be the secretary of state?

ROTHMAN: Well, among them being that he was just in North Korea conducting a very high-level diplomatic mission. To the extent that he has been acting as a diplomatic ambassador now - and this was apparently leaked to convey to the press and to Democrats that he is essentially functioning as a diplomat...

GREENE: You're saying leaked to the - you're saying the White House wanted this out there so - to try and convince Democrats about his credentials.

ROTHMAN: Oh, we've learned yesterday that that was apparently the case. And it was a very smart move. It established his...

GREENE: But isn't that just one trip? Isn't that just one trip?

ROTHMAN: Well, yeah, but it's one very effective trip, apparently. He's performing groundwork for some very high-level summitry, some very risky summitry. And everybody's fear about the possibility of a meeting with Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un was that the groundwork would not be laid, there wouldn't be enough preliminary meetings to have an effective meeting and a productive meeting. And this is an example that that groundwork is being done. I think it was a very smart move. And it should convey to Democrats that their objections to Mike Pompeo, who is a confirmed official in a very high-level position as CIA director - that their opposition to him as a diplomat is more than a little bit contrived.

GREENE: Well...

ROTHMAN: Their opposition consists of his having said that there is a religionwide problem with radical Islam that is not limited to the Middle East, which is objectively true and - if you cited, as he cited, the Tsarnaev brothers, who are from Russia, it demonstrates that he was correct. And I...

GREENE: But let me - and let me ask you - let me actually ask you about religion.

ROTHMAN: Sure.

GREENE: ...Because one thing that did come up at his confirmation hearing was some previous comments he's made about religion. Pompeo was talking to a church group in his hometown, Wichita, Kan., a few years ago, talking about the war on terrorism, talking about Islam. He called for people to pray, to stand and fight and, quote, "make sure we know Jesus Christ as our savior is truly the only solution for our world." Is that public view a problem for a man who's going to be the face of U.S. diplomacy, dealing with Muslim-majority countries?

ROTHMAN: Well, you're going to say then that having any personal conviction is then a problem. If that is a problem to have a personal conviction that is a Christian worldview, then we can't have anybody with personal convictions or religious views performing an act that doesn't necessarily involve having Christian views. So we're suggesting now that he cannot put those views aside.

GREENE: Although not everyone who has a view like that scares the Muslim community. Our colleague Tom Gjelten has reported the Muslim community in Kansas was frightened by comments like that.

ROTHMAN: Well, again, I'm not entirely sure what that has to do with his conduct as secretary of state. He is managing Foggy Bottom, which is a diplomatic mission, not conducting domestic affairs. Whether or not you think those views are inappropriate - and I think having a Christian worldview and also acknowledging that radical Islam is as much a problem in Syria as it is in Indonesia - is not an - is not something that's disqualifying, and it wasn't disqualifying when he was confirmed as the CIA director.

GREENE: I just want to be really, really clear here. I mean, you are saying the Democrats who are opposing his confirmation should - the one thing that they should use to convince them is this recent trip to North Korea. That is the most important thing he's done diplomatically, and that should convince them and win them over.

ROTHMAN: What should convince them is whatever convinced them to confirm him as CIA director. Again, this is - he's been conducting diplomacy in this Trump administration. He has been conducting his job in good standing as a confirmed official in the Trump administration. The State Department has been sidelined by the Trump administration. They've been leaning on the military, the Pentagon and the CIA to conduct more diplomacy. Then the State Department usually gets those opportunities.

GREENE: All right, we'll...

ROTHMAN: So we have some evidence that this is the fact on the ground, and confirming it would be acknowledging what already exists.

GREENE: All right, Noah Rothman from Commentary Magazine. Thanks so much.

ROTHMAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.