Mike Pompeo pushes back on ‘hawk’ label at confirmation hearing

The confirmation process for Pompeo, 54, comes at a pivotal moment as the U.S. prepares its response to the alleged chemical attack on a rebel enclave near Damascus, Syria, last weekend. President Donald Trump warned Wednesday that airstrikes against Syria were imminent, though the White House said later that all options remained on the table.

Defense Secretary James Mattis and Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also testified Thursday before the House Armed Services Committee.

In discussing the possibility of military action in Syria, Pompeo said that multiple administrations have determined that the president has authority to act without seeking congressional approval such as in Kosovo, but said that the U.S. would be “better off” if Congress passed a new authorization for the use of military force (AUMF).

“I believe the president has the domestic authority to do that,” Pompeo said about Trump taking unilateral action against the Syrian government.

In 2013, Pompeo, then a member of the House, argued in an op-ed with Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., in favor of Congress voting on a resolution in favor of President Obama’s proposed military strike on Syria following a chemical attack at the time in the suburbs of Damascus.

When asked, however, if Trump has authority to strike North Korea, Pompeo said he would not comment on hypothetical situations or complex legal matters.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., noted Thursday as Pompeo’s hearing began that many “strong voices” within the administration had been fired by Trump or resigned, wondering whether the CIA director’s close relationship with the president “is rooted in a candid, healthy, give-and-take dynamic.”

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., the panel’s ranking member, also raised questions about Pompeo’s independence, blasting Trump’s “erratic approach to foreign policy” and asking in his opening statement whether Pompeo would “stand up to Trump” when he’s wrong on an issue or if he’ll be a “yes man.”

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