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What to expect from Mike Pompeo's confirmation hearing

Will Mike Pompeo be confirmed?
Will Mike Pompeo be confirmed as Secretary of State? 06:35

When Mike Pompeo testifies at his confirmation hearing Thursday, he's likely to face aggressive questioning from Democrats, given his unwavering support of President Trump and his hardliner views on foreign policy issues like the Paris climate accord and North Korea's nuclear program. Yet, after six years as member of Congress and a year at the CIA, the Naval Academy graduate understands the importance of relationships on the hill and he has spent weeks preparing for a contentious confirmation hearing. He has been talking to the White House, schmoozing with legislators and connecting with every living former secretary of state, State Department officials and leaders, as well as his own former hill staffers.

At the outset, Pompeo will offer assurances that he will be a very different secretary of state than Rex Tillerson. Pompeo will, according to excerpts of his opening statement, promise to keep in regular contact with lawmakers, will "do my best to pick up your calls on the first ring" and "be a regular visitor to the Capitol." He'll also tell lawmakers that he's already met with hundreds of State Department staffers, whom, he said "shared how demoralizing it is to have so many vacancies and, frankly, not to feel relevant." He'll aim to help the State Department culture "find its swagger once again." 

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Republicans will likely be friendlier during Pompeo's hearing. Sen, Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, released photos of his meeting with Pompeo weeks ago and said he came away with his meeting impressed. Republicans hope Democrats question Pompeo with a view toward national security, arguing that quickly confirming a secretary of state is essential, with a number of major foreign policy issues requiring immediate attention. But it's not an argument that seems to have moved Democrats.

"These are problems that the Trump administration created. We will vet Pompeo extensively. They should not expect us to be derelict in our duty to advise and consent," a Democratic aide told CBS News. "The world is on fire, but that is not our problem. Pompeo is in for a rude awakening," predicted another Democratic staffer.

Senator Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey, is the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. It will be the first major hearing he presides over since assuming his new role at the beginning of the year. He'll have a chance to question Pompeo aggressively. Pompeo, who has been CIA director since the beginning of the Trump administration, made a point to meet in person with all the Democrats on the committee before his hearing. But many Democratic constituents have sent letters to their senators to voice their worries about seeing Pompeo take over the job of America's top diplomat.

Democrats on the committee do not have the power to stop his nomination from getting a vote by the full Senate. Pompeo doesn't need majority support from the committee. His nomination could instead be sent to the Senate floor unfavorably — although this has never happened in modern history. Rand Paul has already declared that he will oppose Pompeo. There are two Democratic members of the committee who voted in favor of Pompeo to head the CIA -- Sens. Tim Kaine and Jeanne Shaheen -- but they have not yet decided how they'll vote this time. Kaine has explained his uncertainty by saying that CIA director and secretary of state are two very different jobs.

Pompeo's hearing may also present an opportunity for senators to air grievances about the new national security adviser, John Bolton, who was named to the position in the same Trump tweet as the one announcing Pompeo would replace Tillerson. Bolton's position does not require Senate confirmation. Pompeo does not have a substantive relationship with Bolton, though Bolton's PAC endorsed Pompeo's 2014 race in Kansas, and Bolton would be his primary conduit to the White House. The two men share hawkish foreign policy outlooks. Pompeo is likely to be asked if he agrees with Bolton on several issues, including his advocacy for a preemptive strike against North Korea, one congressional staffer told CBS News.

More broadly, members of Congress want to know how involved Pompeo has been in preparing for the president's highly anticipated summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. They are also interested in hearing from Pompeo on the Iran nuclear deal, which he has opposed in the past. As a congressman, he  called Iran a "thuggish police state." When Mr. Trump fired Tillerson he specifically noted their differing opinions on the deal.

"We disagreed on things," President Trump said of Tillerson the day he fired him by tweet. "When you look at the Iran deal, I think it's terrible. I guess he thought it was OK. I wanted to either break it or do something, and he felt a little bit differently."

Those who have advised Pompeo say he isn't coming into the State Department intent on ripping up the deal. 

"He will want to know what the objectives of the deal are and if they are being met," said one Pompeo ally.

Senators, particularly Democrats, are likely to ask him about how willing he would be to air disagreements with Mr. Trump or Bolton.

"I have known Mike Pompeo for a number of years and my prediction is that he will be an independent and exceptionally well-informed voice in the cabinet. He is a thoughtful policy expert who is evidence-based, deeply analytical and no shrinking violet," explained Mark Dubowitz, an expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. "He is going into his new position after years of seeing the raw intelligence and will be one of the best-informed cabinet members on the full range of national security threats facing America."

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People who know Pompeo characterize him as the smartest man in the room -- but even his allies are nervous because he will still need the support of some Democrats. Fourteen Democrats voted to confirm him as CIA director. Pompeo himself has been keeping a low profile. Pompeo himself has been preparing with experts and aides he knows well, and a handful of them are from his days as a congressman. He met with every member of the committee – as is tradition -- leading up to the hearing.

Pompeo also had discussions with every living former secretary of state, including Hillary Clinton, whom he railed at during the Benghazi hearings. His call with Clinton was "not just cursory" it was extensive, said someone familiar with the discussion. Each secretary expressed concern about the morale of the building over the last year as Tillerson stood behind Trump's aim to cut the State Department budget by 30 percent. Pompeo plans to show that he wants to restore department's vigor -- that is an "easy place for him to gain points" said one person helping him prepare.  

Pompeo has spent a lot of time with Mr. Trump in his role as CIA director, often delivering the daily intelligence briefings. The two men have gotten along since day one, Trump once said. They have some similarities. They are not food snobs. Pompeo is someone who drank a lot of Diet Coke and ate a lot of Snickers bars when he was on the hill, said a former staffer. Neither entered politics early: Pompeo was in the Army, went to law school and started an aerospace company. He is said to largely view the way politicians tackle issues as "not very smart," according to one ally. Pompeo and Mr. Trump also both enjoy a good fight and deliver blunt messages.

"He believes no one leaving a conversation with him should come away thinking the opposite is true," said someone who is close to him.

But the two also differ in their approach to work. Pompeo spent long hours reading intelligence burrowed below ground in the House Intelligence Committee SCIF during his years on the hill. He also follows a meticulous schedule. As a member of Congress, he worked 12-hour days that were scheduled in 15-minute increments.

Olivia Victoria Gazis contributed to this report.

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