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Senator Rand Paul Chooses Policy Over Politics On Pompeo Vote

Senator Rand Paul has been a relentless voice for a non-interventionist foreign policy and one of the few on Capitol Hill to back and encourage President Trump’s instincts in that direction.

Paul was highly critical of the appointment of former UN Ambassador John Bolton as National Security Advisor and came out in opposition to CIA Director Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State and Gina Haspel as Pompeo’s successor at the CIA, citing their interventionist records and stands on “enhanced interrogation” as libertarian-Sen. Rand Paulbased reasons to oppose them.

According to reporting by TPM’s Nicole Lafond, Paul was adamantly opposed to Pompeo’s nomination a week ago, announcing in a press conference that he was going to do “everything I can to block” Pompeo, citing Pompeo’s hawkish views on foreign policy, especially as it relates to the war in Iraq.

However, Senator Paul decided to vote to confirm Pompeo, despite his earlier misgivings, and is now catching heat from his base over that decision, given his repeated assertions that he would not vote to confirm the West Pointer as America’s top diplomat.

In announcing his intention to vote to confirm Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State, Sen. Paul cited assurances he received from Pompeo that he agrees with President Donald Trump’s position that the U.S. should recede from Afghanistan as the chief reason for changing his mind, among other considerations.

"I came to the point of view I would give director Pompeo a chance and I think we'll hear more from him that hopefully will be heartening to those of the view we need to have less war," Paul said Tuesday according to reporting by our friends at NewsMax.

Sen. Paul also told MSNBC on Tuesday that Pompeo’s secret meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un was a key factor in his decision to embrace Pompeo.

“I think also Pompeo going to North Korea at the behest of the President, some have said this says more about the President than Pompeo, but at the same time, it’s an openness to communication,” he told MSNBC. “We talk about the whole idea of, you know, ‘Speak softly and carry a big stick.’ I think Trump’s is sorta ‘Speak loudly, carry a big stick, but also maybe have an olive branch somewhere out there.’ You’re willing to still have diplomacy.”

Ms. Lafond reports that Paul tweeted Monday that he had “received assurances” from Trump and Pompeo that Pompeo sides with Trump in his belief that the war in Iraq was a “mistake” and that “regime change has destabilized the region.”

“I still do believe that the President’s instincts are for less war, less involvement and many of our foreign policy interventions have backfired on us, that’s what I’ve been saying,” Paul said Tuesday according to TPM. “What I’ve been doing is trying to push to make sure there are voices around him that actually agree with the President on that.”

But that didn’t play well with many of Paul’s supporters, who took to Twitter to lambast the senator, "A bit disappointed, but if Sen. Paul received a strong assurance that this administration would work to end the war in Afghanistan, then the switched vote will be worthwhile," one Paul ally told the Washington Examiner.

Charles P. Pierce, writing for Esquire was even more hostile, saying in a March 24 opinion piece, “This is a classic example of overthought Beltway strategery. Rand Paul is not playing eleventy-million level chess. He is not influencing anything of substance. He is just an ambitious lug whose vote for Mike Pompeo will be no more or less important than that of Jeff Flake or Deb Fischer. He’s a sheep in sheep’s clothing.”

We are more inclined to see a certain logic in Senator Paul’s decision, and it is a logic that he has applied to other votes he has fought and seemingly lost or eventually come around on.

During Mike Pompeo’s confirmation hearing Senator Paul said, “My main concern is — will you be one who will listen to what the president actually wants, instead of being someone who advocates for us staying forever in Afghanistan, another Iraq war, bombing Syria… I guess that’s my biggest concern with your nomination, that I don’t think it reflects the millions of Americans who voted for President Trump because they thought it would be something different.”

In the aftermath of the hearing, according to reporting by TIME magazine and other outlets, President Trump spoke to Senator Paul three times over the course of Monday, according to individuals familiar with these talks, who say that the Kentucky Senator expected concessions.

In exchange for Paul’s support, Pompeo would publicly admit that the Iraq War was a mistake — a topic he fumbled under Paul’s grilling at his confirmation hearing — and begin the effort to pull U.S. forces from Afghanistan.

“Today, Senator Paul got a victory when Director Pompeo agreed to support the President’s statements, that the Iraq war was a mistake and we must stop nation-building in Afghanistan and beyond,” Sergio Gor, Paul’s communications director, told TIME in an email Monday evening.

The easy political move for Senator Paul would have been to vote “NO” and claim it was a vote based on principle, the tougher and better move for the country and Senator Paul’s policy goals, was to get the commitments on policy and vote “YES.”

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