If it’s true that proximity to President Donald Trump is the key to effective policymaking in his administration, then secretary of state nominee Mike Pompeo stands a good chance to succeed — whatever the merit of his policies. That’s as it should be. To think otherwise is to misunderstand the role of the secretary of state.
The job of this officeholder, fourth in the line of presidential succession, is to uphold the Constitution, execute the lawful policies of the president, and strengthen the effectiveness of the department he or she leads.
In short, as much as Trump’s critics may wish it to be, Pompeo’s job is not to restrain the president, but to let Trump be Trump — and thereby respect the voters who elected him. The job of the Senate is to decide whether Pompeo has the competence and character to do so — or instead deserves to join the fewer than 2 percent of all cabinet nominees since 1789 whom it has rejected.
Unlike Rex Tillerson before him, Pompeo clearly enjoys Trump’s trust. And the two of them are much closer on policy issues, including how to approach North Korea, Iran and the Paris accord on climate change. When Pompeo speaks, U.S. allies and adversaries alike can be relatively sure he represents Trump’s views.
As a lawyer, a businessman, a U.S. representative and now director of the CIA, Pompeo has demonstrated his competence. During his confirmation hearing, he pledged to respect congressional oversight, fill empty State Department positions, shepherd its budget and restore the department’s “swagger.”
Both Republican and Democratic senators have been right to ask whether Pompeo would be willing to “stand up” to the president. They’ve also been right to raise questions about Pompeo’s troubling past remarks attacking Muslims and the legalization of same-sex marriages. The job of representing American values to the world — not least human rights, which Pompeo promised to champion — leaves no room for intolerance, bigotry and discrimination. In that and other respects, character is as important as competence.
That said, the greatest foreign policy challenges facing the U.S. — in North Korea, Iran, Syria, Russia and China — will demand robust and sustained diplomacy as a first resort. That is all but impossible when a president feels he can’t rely on his diplomats. For better and worse, Trump frequently changes his mind, most recently on whether the U.S. should be in the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Could more such positive shifts — say, on the Paris accord — be in the offing? The odds will be better if the president is working with a team he trusts.
FROM AN EDITORIAL ON BLOOMBERG VIEW