IS MIKE POMPEO THE RIGHT PERSON FOR THE JOB?

FIVE QUESTIONS I HAVE FOR THE SECRETARY OF STATE NOMINEE

The confirmation hearing of Mike Pompeo, the nominee to be the next secretary of state, will be an interesting spectacle. I am hoping that there are brave members of Congress who will testify at Mr. Pompeo’s hearing as Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) did when Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) was chosen to be attorney general.

Rabbi Jack Moline, president of Interfaith Alliance, shares his questions for Pompeo at a April 9, 2018, briefing on Capitol Hill with the Arab American Institute, Muslim Advocates, Muslim Public Affairs Council and Shoulder-to-Shoulder.

Mr. Pompeo may have a knowledge base that would make him a more informed nominee than his predecessor, but the secretary of state is charged with the responsibility of overseeing our relationships with every nation in the world. His record as a member of Congress and as CIA director leads me to suspect, however, he’d have a difficult time doing just that.

My concern arises from his long history of what I consider bigoted and demonizing statements about Muslims and his record of antagonism toward individuals who are LGBTQ.

Interfaith Alliance believes that true religious freedom, as guaranteed by the Constitution, includes the beliefs and practices of people of all faiths and philosophies. The protections of the Bill of Rights are absolute to the point where the protection of one person’s rights impinges on the same rights of another. The reliability of our laws and values are an essential element in our representation to other countries that we are defenders of human and civil rights.

So, there are questions we have for Mr. Pompeo. They are questions that any candidate for the position of the nation’s top diplomat should be expected to answer, but they are made more pointed — and perhaps more specific — by positions Mr. Pompeo has taken during his career representing the people of Kansas in the House of Representatives.

Question 1: Are you biased against Muslims?

After the bombing of the Boston Marathon, Mr. Pompeo falsely claimed that no Muslim groups condemned the act. Like many faith and affinity groups, Muslim religious and social organizations expressed their grief and outrage, even though none of them bore any responsibility for the act. He went further by casting doubt on their commitment to peace and he suggested that it made them somehow complicit in the act.

There are fifty Muslim-majority countries in the world, including Nigeria, Turkey, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia. The United States enjoys diplomatic relationships with all of them except Iran. A bias against Muslims would be a serious barrier to encouraging peaceful and productive relations with those countries.

Question 2: What are your relationships with ACT for America and the Center for Security Policy?

These two organizations are devoted to the false narrative that all Muslims are members of the Muslim Brotherhood, which they contend has a plan to disrupt Western civilization and destroy America. They believe that any Muslim who adheres to the religious practices of Sharia is, by definition, an enemy of the United States. Mr. Pompeo has accepted awards from ACT for America and has made multiple appearances on the Center for Security Policy radio program hosted by notorious anti-Muslim bigot Frank Gaffney, founder and president of CSP.

Even with caveats and explanations, conducting delicate negotiations with leaders of those fifty countries who practice their religion — a right affirmed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights — will be made that much more difficult if Mr. Pompeo takes pride in the honors from these hate groups.

Question 3: Do you believe that the protections of law apply to LGBTQ individuals?

Mr. Pompeo has been an outspoken critic of marriage equality, both before and after the 2015 Supreme Court ruling that established it as an American right. He criticized the decision as running counter to a shared understanding of the Constitution and went on to fight on behalf of the State Marriage Defense Act, which attempted to place state restrictions on who can marry ahead of federal law.

Moreover, he opposed the extension of the Violence Against Women Act to protect LGBTQ victims. He co-sponsored legislation to allow citizens to cite religious beliefs in withholding goods and services to LGBTQ customers, patients, clients and citizens. And he opposed the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which allowed openly gay and lesbian members of the military on the basis that it was a social idea that did not reflect our nation’s values.

Independent of the status of anti-discrimination laws in the United States, many nations with which we have diplomatic relations have taken steps to protect against discrimination against LGBTQ individuals. Additionally, the principled position of the United States has prevented strategic allies from imposing physical or even capital punishment on their own citizens who are LGBTQ. Lives may be at risk if others know the United States will look the other way.

Question 4: Are you personally opposed to promoting diversity in the State Department?

Mr. Pompeo’s predecessor at the CIA, John Brennan, implemented guidelines for increasing diversity at the CIA. During his tenure, Mr. Pompeo did not attend the diversity assembly and rolled back Mr. Brennan’s proposed reforms. Additionally, Mr. Pompeo abruptly withdrew a speaking invitation to the parents of Matthew Shepard, whose murder became the impetus for hate crimes legislation in this country. The Shepherds were scheduled to speak alongside Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI).

In “rating” his candidacy for his position on promoting diversity, NumbersUSA, an anti-immigration group, gave him a “B+.” The organization took note of the fact that, unlike some previous secretaries, Mr. Pompeo was born in the United States to native-born parents, that he spoke English as his only language and that he was not a person of color or any other minority. He has not commented on his grade.

Narrowing the perspective of the diplomatic corps would return us to a time before the State Department understood that successful diplomacy requires individuals with diverse understandings of diverse circumstances.

Question 5: Should the United States seek to avoid war?

This is the essential question for any secretary of state. As the chief diplomatic officer of the country, the secretary’s goal should be to secure our nation’s priorities through peaceful means, including negotiations, cultural exchanges and collaborative approaches to problems and instabilities.

However, Mr. Pompeo has opposed agreements with foreign nations that have historically tense relationships with the United States, seeking to reverse them and return us to a state of antagonism and brinksmanship. The descent into war has ultimate consequences for our military and our nation.

Mr. Pompeo deserves an opportunity to answer those questions — but first they must be asked. I believe that the American people need to know his responses and that the senators who will vote on his confirmation need to be on the record as to whether they find those answers satisfying.

Politicians can rise to the occasions of opportunity for the benefit of the country or sink to personal opportunism as they promote a private or political agenda. Whoever becomes our next secretary of state ought to be willing to strive for the former, even if they have made different choices in the past.