Indiana senator Joe Donnelly announced on Saturday that he would support Gina Haspel as CIA sirector, becoming the second Democrat to offer his approval and all but ensuring that she will be confirmed.
In a statement, Donnelly said that he had a “tough, frank, and extensive conversation” with Haspel regarding her vision for the agency, and that she had learned from “mistakes of the past.” He also said that Haspel had assured him she would be “responsive to congressional oversight.”
During her Senate confirmation hearing, Haspel faced tough questions about the part she played in the post-9/11 Bush administration torture regime, specifically her roles overseeing a “black site” in Thailand and destroying tapes that showed brutal CIA interrogations.
Haspel said she would not permit torture at CIA under her watch, and would defy an order by President Trump to reinstate it as an interrogation method. But she did not apologize for what she justified as appropriate behavior at the time.
Among Republican senators, only McCain and Rand Paul have announced their opposition to Haspel’s nomination. Because he is undergoing treatment for brain cancer, McCain is not expected to be in Washington for the final vote. Paul, meanwhile, has a habit of caving on nominees. Even if he stands firm, two more Republicans would need to flip for Haspel to hit the rocks, an unlikely prospect.
Many Democrats have said they will oppose Haspel, with only Donnelly and Joe Manchin of West Virginia breaking ranks, though more may follow. Manchin and Donnelly are two of the handful of Democrats running for re-election this fall in states President Trump carried. At an Indiana campaign rally this week, Trump referred to the Indian senator as “Sleepin’ Joe” Donnelly,” called him a “swamp creature,” and urged the crowd to vote for his Republican opponent. In an effort to tread a middle ground in a state where Trump holds major sway, Donnelly’s campaign put out a statement before the rally emphasizing that he has voted with the president 62 percent of the time.
Donnelly’s “yes” vote for Haspel seems to be a similarly transparent effort to reassure Hoosiers that he can work across party lines. But it’s not at all obvious that on-the-fence midterm voters will appreciate, much less remember, his act of bipartisanship five months down the line.