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Pompeo Expected To Head State, Jackson Not Likely To Be VA Chief


It is looking increasingly likely that Mike Pompeo will be the next secretary of state. Pompeo narrowly won a vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday. The support of a few Democrats is expected to get him through the full Senate. But another of President Trump's nominees for Veterans Affairs is looking much less certain. Admiral Ronny Jackson's confirmation hearing has officially been postponed. We spoke earlier this morning with Republican Senator Mike Rounds of South Dakota.

Senator, welcome.

MIKE ROUNDS: Thank you. Appreciate the opportunity to visit with you.

GREENE: Well, we always appreciate you taking the time for us. I want to start by asking you about Mike Pompeo and Iran. Steve Inskeep, my co-host, was talking to Iran's foreign minister yesterday, and he pointed to Pompeo saying during the confirmation process that he doesn't think Iran is racing towards a nuclear bomb. Does that mean, as secretary of state, he might talk President Trump out of leaving the Iran nuclear deal?

ROUNDS: Well, the Iran nuclear deal, most of us felt, was a bad deal to begin with. It was never passed by the Senate. It doesn't have the force of a treaty. But we put our resources in upfront. And now it's a matter of whether or not Iran is going to honor the deal and whether or not they're going to be taking their time before they're actually able to create a nuclear weapon, which would be in about 10 to 15 years. So while most of us think it was a bad deal to begin with, we have nothing to lose in my opinion and, I believe, probably in Mr. Pompeo's opinion in keeping the Iran nuclear deal in place at this time.

GREENE: OK. So a Republican senator like yourself feels that way, and you're not alone in the Senate. Mike Pompeo seems to feel that way. The president of France is in town for a state dinner. He certainly wants the United States to stay in the deal. Is this a moment? I mean, do you think President Trump might be looking in that direction and be less likely to pull the United States out?

ROUNDS: What he may very well be doing is is trying to find if there are some additional concessions that can be brought to bear. Look, if he can make it better, if he can strengthen it - more power to him. And that's part of what he has suggested in the past with other treaties that are actually in place. Trade agreements, the same way - he says he wants to make them better. I take him at his word. And if there's an opportunity for him to actually make some improvements in the agreement that we have today with Iran, then more power to him. And you know, that's something that (laughter), if he can get it done, would help a lot of us feel better.

GREENE: What about your colleagues who want the deal to be scrapped? Will Pompeo face some trouble with them during the confirmation debate on the floor?

ROUNDS: Look, I think we're going to have solid support among Republicans for Mike Pompeo. I mean, the reality is is you can have disagreements on a particular policy issue. But Mike Pompeo is probably one of the most qualified individuals ever to be asked to serve as secretary of state. No. 1, he graduated first in his West Point class. He's been a member of the House. He is currently on as the director of the CIA. He went through the nominations process. He's already been vetted by the Senate once already for one of the most difficult jobs in the federal government.

So look, I think he's going to be just fine. And I think if there are areas of disagreement, there'll be healthy discussions on those areas. And reality is is nobody expects everybody to agree on everything all the time.

GREENE: I think you can safely say that in Washington, D.C. these days (laughter).

ROUNDS: That's right.

GREENE: You sit on the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee as well. And so I want to ask you about Dr. Ronny Jackson, President Trump's nominee to head that office. There are reports that his confirmation hearings have been postponed, the Washington Post suggesting there are concerns about his management of the White House medical staff. What can you tell us about these allegations?

ROUNDS: Chairman Isakson actually had a phone call with a number of us over the weekend. And it indicated that there had been some unsubstantiated allegations made against Admiral Jackson. And he simply advised that he was in consultation with the White House and that he would let us know sometime during the early part of the week as to what the plans were moving forward. So at this...

GREENE: Do you know what the allegations are?

ROUNDS: We have been given a brief sketch of what they are, but I'd prefer not to discuss them at this time. As I say, they are unsubstantiated. The chairman is aware of them. He's discussed them with the White House. And - look, he's one of these kind of chairmen that really does try to give as much information as possible to the rest of the members. But it's really up to the chairman as to what the next step would be, whether we continue on with the nominations process or if we hold up long enough to allow this to be vetted more fully before we bring it in front of the committee.

GREENE: I know you're on - just a few seconds left - are they serious enough that, if true, you would have to not support him?

ROUNDS: These are serious allegations, and they're ones that we most certainly want to get through and end that properly.

GREENE: Senator Mike Rounds, Republican of South Dakota - always nice having on the program. Thank you.

ROUNDS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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