Senate confirms Ratcliffe to be Trump’s spy chief

The Senate on Thursday confirmed Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) to be President Trump’s next spy chief. 

Senators voted 49-44 on Ratcliffe’s nomination to the director of national intelligence(DNI), a position that has been filled in an acting capacity since former DNI Dan Coats stepped down in August.

The vote is one of the final items on the Senate’s to-do list before the chamber leaves town for a weeklong Memorial Day recess. And it comes only days after the Senate Intelligence Committee advanced Ratcliffe’s nomination along party lines.

Democrats allowed Ratcliffe’s nomination to skip over procedural hurdles that could have delayed his confirmation until June, in a sign that senators want a Senate-confirmed DNI and that acting DNI Richard Grenell is deeply unpopular.

But Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) vowed to oppose his nomination ahead of Thursday’s vote, saying that he has “not demonstrated the qualities for the independence that we should expect.”

“It requires someone with unimpeachable integrity, deep experience and the independence and backbone to speak truth to power. That’s what DNI’s, including the previous one, Dan Coats, did. Unfortunately, Mr. Ratcliffe doesn’t even come close to meeting that high bar,” Schumer added. 

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a member of the Intelligence Committee, added that Ratcliffe has made “extremely disturbing statements that make it clear that he has and will misrepresent and politicize intelligence.”

Ratcliffe’s confirmation was the most political vote that has occurred for what has traditionally been viewed as an apolitical position. He’s the sixth Senate-confirmed DNI since the position was created. Coats was confirmed 85-12 for the post in 2017. James Clapper, his Senate-confirmed predecessor, was confirmed by a voice vote.

Trump initially said last year that he intended to nominate Ratcliffe to the post, but the Texas congressman withdrew his name from consideration amid reports that he inflated his résumé.

He’s gained a reputation as a loyalist to Trump, including serving as part of a group of House Republicans who were advisers to the president’s impeachment team.

Ratcliffe enters the post at a crucial time in the lead up to the 2020 election, where intelligence officials have warned of attempts by Russia to meddle.

The position also puts him in the middle of escalating GOP investigations into decisions stemming from the Obama-era, with Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) urging the intelligence community to comply with their requests to hand over information as part of their controversial investigations. Grenell recently handed over a list of Obama administration officials who “unmasked” former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

But Ratcliffe tried to position himself as an independent voice during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee. 

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) asked Ratcliffe during the hearing if he would “communicate the intelligence community’s analytical views to the president, even if you knew that he would strongly disagree with them.” She also asked if he would do so “even if you believed it would place your job in jeopardy?”

Ratcliffe replied “of course” to both questions.

She also asked if he agreed with Trump that the intelligence community had “run amok and needs to be reined in.”

Ratcliffe replied that “what [Trump] says or how he says them … will not impact the intelligence that I deliver.”

Democrats were powerless to stop Ratcliffe’s nomination without help from Republicans. He only need a simple majority to be confirmed and Republicans hold 53 seats.

Collins, who was viewed as a swing vote on the committee, said earlier this month that she would support him. No Republican had said ahead of the vote that they would oppose Ratcliffe.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) praised Ratcliffe ahead of the vote.

“Today, we’ll confirm the next director of national intelligence. John Ratcliffe will lead the intelligence community in countering threats from great powers, rogue nations and terrorists — and ensuring that work is untainted by political bias,” he said. 

Tags Chuck Grassley Chuck Schumer Dan Coats Donald Trump James Clapper John Ratcliffe Lindsey Graham Mitch McConnell Ron Johnson Ron Wyden Susan Collins

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