WASHINGTON • Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill voted against President Donald Trump’s nominee for CIA director Thursday, saying that Gina Haspel’s record at the spy agency showed that her “instincts and judgment” were not “in line with our country’s moral compass.”
The vote, which ran contrary to four other Democratic senators running for re-election in states Trump won in 2016, set off an immediate tweet storm from Republicans who signaled they will make that vote and others she’s made against Trump nominees an issue in Missouri’s U.S. Senate election this year.
McCaskill, who met privately with Haspel on Monday, did not announce her intentions until she voted. She cited Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who had urged senators to reject Haspel for her role in the use of torture — “enhanced interrogation” in spy parlance — of terrorism suspects after the 2001 attacks on New York City and Washington. McCain was tortured as a prisoner in Hanoi during the Vietnam War.
“Given the nature of the CIA’s work, the agency receives little oversight. I need to have confidence that the person running it has the instincts and judgment to make decisions in line with our country’s moral compass,” McCaskill said, explaining her vote.
“I agree with many in the military and my friend and colleague Senator John McCain — the only United States senator who understands torture in a way I hope no American will experience ever again — that the CIA needs a leader who is willing to take a stand when the policies don’t reflect our values. While I respect Ms. Haspel’s service and sacrifice, after meeting with her and reviewing classified documents, I do not think she is that person.”
Republicans attacked in the virtual echo of her voice vote.
Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, the leading contender for GOP Senate nomination, said McCaskill “put party over Missouri” and “voted the way (Democratic Senate leader) Chuck Schumer and her liberal donors wanted.”
Hawley said McCaskill “was willing to deny a 33-year veteran of the CIA, who has strong bipartisan support, the opportunity to become the first female director of the agency — all because she opposes President Trump.”
Republicans had touted Haspel as the most qualified CIA nominee ever, citing her years of work in dangerous places and in the stressful and fearful hours, days and weeks after 9/11, when the nation was braced for follow-on attacks and another kind of terror, that of the unknown.
“The widespread support Haspel has within the CIA and amongst top national security leaders speaks to her integrity and ability,” Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., a member of the Intelligence Committee, tweeted.
That record, and Haspel’s answers at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing last week, attracted some Democrats, including the ranking Democrat on that committee that oversees the CIA, Mark Warner of Virginia. Democrats facing tough re-elections in North Dakota, Indiana, Florida and West Virginia — all states that Trump won in 2016, some in landslides — voted for her.
But McCaskill, demonstrating again a willingness to buck a president who won her state by 19 percentage points, was not among them. In that, she joined Democratic Sens. Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin in voting no.
Republicans now have several McCaskill votes against key Trump nominees, including Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, to take to Missouri voters in November.
But McCaskill also has affirmative votes to top Trump nominees she can point to, such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, to make the case that she is independent, deliberative, and discerning.