The Next Likely Secretary Of State Won't Say If He Still Thinks Being Gay Is A "Perversion"

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On Thursday, CIA Director Mike Pompeo faced his Senate confirmation hearing, aiming to become the next secretary of state. And with a long record of controversial statements about foreign policy, Islam, and LGBT rights among other things, there was plenty for Senate Democrats to grill him on. In the event you missed it, however, here are six shocking things Pompeo said at his confirmation hearing.

It remains to be seen whether Pompeo will be confirmed by the Senate, since with the GOP controlling a mere 51-seat majority, there's a very narrow margin for error. Amid a political climate in which the progressive left is extremely animated and activated, and the Democrats are hoping to marshal a blue wave in the 2018 midterms to reclaim control of the House and Senate, it would not be surprising if Pompeo faces some rigorous resistance.

Of course, any effort to halt his nomination would require at least two Republican senators to break ranks, and uniform opposition from the Democrats, including conservative Democrats like Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Thus far, Kentucky Republican Rand Paul has openly challenged Pompeo in his questioning, but where exactly everything will shake out remains unclear. Here are some of the most headline-drawing answers Pompeo gave during his hearing on Thursday.

He Wouldn't Answer Whether Being Gay Was A "Perversion"

New Jersey Senator Cory Booker held Pompeo to account for his opposition to same-sex marriage, as well as a statement he made while a representative from Kansas, referencing a sermon that declared homosexuality to be a "perversion." Pompeo replied,

Senator, when I was a politician, I had a very clear view on whether it was appropriate for two same-sex persons to marry. I stand by that.

Pompeo insisted he would treat same-sex married state department employees with respect, and repeated the same statement under follow-up questioning from Booker, refusing to answer whether he believed gay sex was "perversion." He said,

Senator, I'm gonna give you the same answer I just gave you previously. My respect for every individual, regardless of their sexual orientation, is the same.

The remark from Pompeo's congressional career Booker was referring to, according to The Hill, was as follows: "America had worshipped other Gods and called it multiculturalism. We’d endorsed perversion and called it an alternative lifestyle."

The U.S. Killed "Hundreds" Of Russians In Syria Last Year

One dramatic revelation from Pompeo's hearings was the first official confirmation by an American official that the U.S. military killed "hundreds" of Russians in Syria "a handful of weeks ago." Said Pompeo,

This administration announced a nuclear posture review, that has put Russia on notice that we're going to recapitalize our deterrent force in Syria. Now, a handful of weeks ago, the Russians met their match. A couple hundred Russians were killed.

Pompeo was responding to a question from Senator Jeanne Shaheen about whether the Trump administration would be tough enough on Russia, and implement sanctions in response to its alleged 2016 election meddling. Given Russia's status as a nuclear-armed superpower that supports Syria's Assad government, the kinds of deadly encounters Pompeo described have stoked fears of a broader, potentially hyper-destructive conflict between the two countries.

He Opposes The Paris Climate Accords

Facing questioning from Democratic Senator Ben Cardin, Pompeo made it clear that he agreed with President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accords, claiming it places a "undue burden" on the country. He said,

I share the president's position precisely, which is that the Paris agreements put an undue burden on the United States of America, and that we should work to find a place where that is not the case. And when that moment arrives, we will be part of that discussion and enter that agreement.

Pompeo has long been a skeptic and denier of the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change. He once remarked, during an appearance on C-SPAN, that "there are some [scientists] who think we're warming, there are some who think we're cooling, there are some who think that the last 16 years have shown a pretty stable climate environment."

Climate change activist and former Vice President Al Gore singled out Pompeo's climate change denial on Twitter on Thursday morning, and called for the Senate to reject his nomination.

He Confirmed He Was Interviewed By The Mueller Investigation...

When questioned by New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, Pompeo acknowledged that he'd been interviewed by the Mueller investigation. He said,

I spoke with special counsel Mueller, who interviewed me, requested an interview. I cooperated.

This in and of itself does not indicate that Pompeo is suspected of any wrongdoing whatsoever, but with reporting in recent months that President Donald Trump has on multiple occasions considered firing Mueller, it's highly newsworthy.

Pompeo subsequently refused to answer what he discussed in the Mueller interview, and said that nobody should draw any positive or negative inferences from the fact that he was interviewed.

... And Said He Wouldn't Resign If Trump Fired Mueller

Despite saying he cooperated with Mueller's investigation, Pompeo also made it clear that he would not object forcefully if Trump took steps to end the investigation, whether by firing Mueller or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Specifically, Pompeo said he likely wouldn't resign if Trump made such a move:

I haven't given that question any thought; my instincts tell me no. My instincts tell me that my obligation to continue to serve as America's senior diplomat will be more important at times of increased domestic turmoil. ... Having not given it a great deal of thought, I am confident that that's the path I'd take.
He Dodged Questions Over Past Islamophobic Statements

Booker didn't just challenge Pompeo on LGBT rights. He also questioned the 54-year-old former GOP congressman on his past statements about Islam, which countless observers have characterized as Islamophobic.

Specifically, Booker highlighted Pompeo's longtime association with anti-Islam radio host and ideologue Frank Gaffney, and questioned him over his 2013 remarks criticizing American Muslims in the aftermath of the Boston marathon bombing.

Specifically, Pompeo claimed at the time that Islamic leaders who didn't vocally denounce the bombings were "potentially complicit" in the act of mass violence. Pompeo avoided engaging with his specific singling-out of Muslims, claiming that "every American" has a responsibility to speak out against terrorism:

Senator, each and every human, not just Americans, each and every human being, has an obligation to push back against this extremist use of violence, from whatever faith. ... I also do believe this firmly, that for certain places, for certain forms of violence, there are some who are better positioned, folks who are more credible, more trustworthy, have a more shared experience. So when it comes to making sure that we don't have terrorists brewing in places where Muslims congregate, there's a special place, right? It's more than a duty, it's ― it's an opportunity.

Booker followed up, asking Pompeo if he believed Muslims had a different level of obligation to denounce terrorism because of their religion. Pompeo insisted that he views it as an "opportunity," not an "obligation."

It likely won't be immediately clear whether Pompeo has the votes to clear his Senate confirmation, although, he does have a slight advantage, given that the GOP still narrowly controls the Senate. The Republican National Committee is also actively trying to put pressure on the 14 Democrats who supported Pompeo's nomination for CIA director last year.