After Gina Haspel’s confirmation hearing on Wednesday it appeared likely that she had the votes to become the next CIA director. But that night Senator John McCain released a statement urging his colleagues to reject her nomination, potentially giving wavering senators the cover they need to oppose her.
McCain has been home in Arizona battling brain cancer since the end of last year, and is not expected to return for the vote. His presence might have changed the course of the hearing, as he could have pressed her for answers as a survivor of torture from when he was a prisoner of war in Vietnam.
“I believe Gina Haspel is a patriot who loves our country and has devoted her professional life to its service and defense,” McCain said. “However, Ms. Haspel’s role in overseeing the use of torture by Americans is disturbing. Her refusal to acknowledge torture’s immorality is disqualifying. I believe the Senate should exercise its duty of advice and consent and reject this nomination.”
Haspel, who once ran a CIA black site in Thailand, said she would not reinstate the torture program the agency ran in the days after 9/11. However she dodged many other questions, declining to call the “enhanced interrogation” that occurred on her watch immoral, or say whether she would waterboard a suspect if ordered to do so.
Due to McCain’s absence the Senate effectively has 50 Republicans and 49 Democrats. Since Republican Senator Rand Paul said he plans to vote against Haspel, she needed to pick up at least one Democratic vote. She appeared to find it shortly after the hearing when Democrat Joe Manchin said he would support her. However, Politico reports that there are still a few undecided senators who might be swayed by McCain’s statement, including fellow Arizona Republican Jeff Flake, Democrats Doug Jones and Claire McCaskill, and Republican Mike Lee.
The Senate Intelligence Committee is expected to vote on Haspel some time next week, and then her nomination will be put before the full chamber.