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Sen. Joe Donnelly backs Gina Haspel, making CIA nominee's confirmation more likely

Last Updated May 12, 2018 11:15 AM EDT

Sen. Joe Donnelly on Saturday became the second Democrat to announce he will cast his vote in favor of CIA director nominee Gina Haspel -- boosting her prospects of being confirmed. Donnelly, a Democrat in a heavily Republican state that voted for Donald Trump in 2016, faces a tough reelection battle against self-described Republican outsider Mike Braun in November. 

Donnelly voiced his support for Haspel on Twitter Saturday morning, saying he believes Haspel learned from the past and has the experience needed as the U.S. faces "dynamic and challenging security threats." 

Haspel faced intense questioning from lawmakers on Capitol Hill this week over her time at the CIA when it used "enhanced interrogation methods" like waterboarding following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Asked if she would follow-through on an order from the president to pursue such techniques, she replied: "No, I believe CIA must undertake activities that are consistent with American values." She did, however, not condemn the methods the CIA has used in the past as immoral. 

Donnelly announced his decision after meeting with Haspel, he said.

West Virginia's Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat in a state that voted for Mr. Trump by the greatest margin, has also voiced his support for Haspel. Manchin, too, faces an uphill battle for reelection in November. 

So far, one Republican — Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky — has voiced his opposition to Haspel. 

Donnelly's support for Haspel comes as he needs to portray himself as someone who doesn't always oppose the president's agenda, and can agree with those on the other side of the aisle. 

Mr. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence visited Indiana earlier this week in what was billed as a tax reform rally, but practically speaking was an opportunity for Mr. Trump to blast "swamp person" Donnelly for his association with the Democratic Party and voting record. Mr Trump said Democrats like Donnelly say one thing, "and then they go to Washington and vote for the radical, liberal agenda."

"It never, ever fails," the president said. "You know there's about 12 of 'em. You think you have their vote. And they talk a good game. But they always raise their hand for the radical left of Nancy Pelosi. Always. "

But Donnelly's intention to vote for Haspel wouldn't be the first time he's crossed the aisle to vote when most of his colleagues did not. He also voted for Mr. Trump's pick to run the State Department, new Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

The Senate Intelligence Committee is expected to vote on Haspel next week, and the full Senate later this month. 

  • Kathryn Watson

    Kathryn Watson is a politics reporter for CBS News Digital.