Sen. Chris Coons Announces Opposition to Mike Pompeo for Secretary of State

WASHINGTON— Sen. Chris Coons (D., Del.) said Friday that he won’t support Mike Pompeo as secretary of state, putting the current Central Intelligence Agency director on track for a negative recommendation from the committee assessing his nomination.

The vote on Mr. Pompeo in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled for Monday evening. With Mr. Coons’s announcement, all Democrats on the committee have stated they will oppose Mr. Pompeo. They are joined by one Republican, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, giving opponents a majority on the committee.

Under Senate procedures, the nomination could still be brought to the Senate floor, where the math is more favorable for Mr. Pompeo and he is likely be confirmed.

But the panel vote would mark a highly unusual rebuke to a key member of President Donald Trump’s foreign policy team, and there is no example in modern history of a secretary of state nominee failing to win a committee endorsement and still being confirmed by the full Senate.

Republicans in the administration and on Capitol Hill expect Mr. Pompeo to win the support of a handful of Democrats up for reelection in November in states won by Mr. Trump, and don’t expect any other GOP defections besides Mr. Paul. Earlier this week, North Dakota Democrat Heidi Heitkamp said she would vote to confirm Mr. Pompeo, becoming the first Democrat to state her support.

Republicans hold a slim 51-49 majority in the Senate, and one GOP senator, John McCain of Arizona, is at home seeking cancer treatment.

In his statement, Mr. Coons said he believed Mr. Pompeo would be a “strong advocate” for State Department employees and is “knowledgeable and clear-eyed about the diplomatic and security challenges we face around the world.” But, he said, “I remain concerned that Director Pompeo will not challenge the president in critical moments."

The level of opposition to Mr. Pompeo breaks a longstanding tradition of confirming nominees to national security positions with bipartisan majorities, especially at the State Department. Both of President Barack Obama’s secretary of state nominees earned 94 votes in the 100-member Senate. During the height of the controversial Iraq war, Condoleezza Rice, nominated by President George W. Bush, was confirmed by the Senate in an 85-13 vote.

Already more than 25 Democrats have said they oppose Mr. Pompeo—including five who voted for him to be CIA director. Several have said that the qualifications for being CIA director are different than for secretary of state.

Write to Byron Tau at byron.tau@wsj.com

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