In conjunction with youth-led activism across the country, this Sunday at a Millennials Meet & Greet campaign event, members of the Rhode Island Student Climate Coalition pressured Senator Sheldon Whitehouse to oppose current Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director Mike Pompeo’s nomination for United States Secretary of State.
Pompeo’s past political work has been actively denounced by human rights and climate advocates. In his 2017 Senate confirmation hearings for CIA director, Pompeo stated that the notion of climate change as a threat to national security was “ignorant, dangerous, and absolutely unbelievable.”
Pompeo is the top all-time recipient of Koch Industries campaign contributions, accepting nearly $1.5 million from fossil fuel companies for his congressional campaigns between 2009 and 2017. Since his Congressional term concluded, he has continued to refute the science of climate change and remains deeply embedded with the fossil fuel industry. Pompeo would add to the force of fossil fuel industry-backed climate deniers in government who are gutting the State Department’s climate diplomacy programs and opening the Arctic to oil and gas drilling.
Pompeo’s nomination was discussed in a confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on April 12th. This committee will likely reconvene for a vote by April 23rd. Should the Democrats on the committee vote in unison and maintain the opposition of Republican Senator Rand Paul, who has already come out against the nomination, Pompeo would fail to receive a favorable committee recommendation. While this would be a major achievement, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would still likely call the vote to the floor. Blocking Pompeo’s confirmation would then require unanimous opposition from the entire Senate Democratic Caucus, alongside Senator Rand Paul’s ‘No’ vote, and Senator John McCain’s absence.
Senator Whitehouse’s voice as a purported climate champion is vital to unify Democrats to oppose Pompeo’s nomination. However, Whitehouse has been reluctant to publicly oppose confirmation after voting in favor of Pompeo’s 2017 nomination to head the CIA.
At the Millennials Meet & Greet, Lauren Maunus, junior at Brown University, asked Whitehouse whether he will vote ‘No’ if Pompeo’s nomination reaches the Senate floor. Whitehouse stated, “I can’t foresee a circumstance that would cause me to vote ‘Yes’ for Mike Pompeo for Secretary of State.”
Despite his suggested disapproval of Pompeo, he repeatedly expressed concern about making a public statement, in large part as a matter of “signaling respect” for the hearing process. “As a matter of process I think [Pompeo] is probably entitled to have me hear what he has to say in response to questions before I make any final answer,” Whitehouse said.
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Whitehouse’s reservations about publicly stating his opposition to Pompeo come in stark contrast to the thirteen Senators who have already made public statements against Pompeo for Secretary of State. One of these thirteen Senators, Senator Brian Schatz, is Whitehouse’s co-sponsor on a national carbon pricing bill and another prominent climate champion. In light of his colleagues’ decisions, Whitehouse’s refusal to publicly condemn Pompeo appears unfounded.
To try to get a better understanding of his motivations, Maunus challenged Whitehouse: “So if you know [Pompeo’s] platforms and values, and you envision voting ‘No,’ what is holding you back from rallying colleagues?” Stumbling to give a coherent response, Whitehouse replied: “Well, mostly process, letting him have his chance to get his answers in.”
In light of the extremely high stakes of Pompeo’s nomination on climate change and human rights, the Sunrise Movement and many more progressive organizations are rallying their members to pressure all Senate Democrats to publicly oppose Pompeo.
In Rhode Island, the Rhode Island Student Climate Coalition, an official Sunrise Hub, has taken the lead on organizing efforts to pressure Senator Whitehouse to vote ‘No’ in alignment with his pro-climate platform. Concurrently, young people from Sunrise have been organizing in Washington DC, California, Minnesota, and New York. Recent articles in the Guardian and local papers have garnered media attention and mounted pressure on Democrats to vocally take a stand against Pompeo’s nomination.
As the vote quickly approaches, it is critical that Whitehouse join his colleagues in publicly condemning Pompeo. In response to Whitehouse’s intended reassurance to “… not worry too much about my vote,” Maunus pushed back: “I’m not necessarily worried about the vote; I’m more wanting to see a prominent climate champion not just vote ‘No,’ but also have a public statement on your website, hold press conferences, and rally your colleagues to also do the same.” Whitehouse tersely responded “There will be time. There will be time.”