Mike Pompeo — Photo: Gage Skidmore
President Donald Trump has fired Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, and plans to replace him with CIA Director Mike Pompeo, the former congressman from Kansas who boasted a zero percent rating from the Human Rights Campaign for two of his three terms in office.
White House officials confirmed the decision to The Washington Post, which first broke the news of the staff shakeup on Tuesday morning. Trump had reportedly asked Tillerson to step aside, forcing the Secretary to cut short his trip to Africa.
“I am proud to nominate the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Mike Pompeo, to be our new Secretary of State,” Trump said in a statement. “Mike graduated first in his class at West Point, served with distinction in the U.S. Army, and graduated with Honors from Harvard Law School. He went on to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives with a proven record of working across the aisle.”
The elevation of Pompeo could be particularly concerning to LGBTQ advocates, who were already critical of Tillerson for failing to address anti-LGBTQ violence and harassment at the hands of state actors in Indonesia, Egypt, and, most notably, in Chechnya, where a purge of LGBTQ people continues to take place.
During his time in Congress, Pompeo opposed same-sex marriage, opposed workplace protections for the LGBTQ community, supported legislation to make it easier to discriminate against LGBTQ people under the guise of “religious freedom, and voted against an LGBT-inclusive version of the Violence Against Women Act.
He earned a zero percent rating on the HRC’s congressional scorecard for votes on LGBTQ-related matters during the 112th and 114th Congresses, and a meager 30% during the 113th Congress.
Another reason Pompeo’s promotion may give the LGBTQ community pause is the recent confirmation of former Kansas governor Sam Brownback, an ardent opponent of LGBTQ rights, to oversee the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom.
During his confirmation hearings, Brownback refused to answer whether “religious freedom” could be used as a justification for imprisoning or executing LGBTQ people in nations where homosexuality is criminalized — and failed to explicitly condemn the practice of executing people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
As such, if Pompeo is either disinterested in speaking out on anti-LGBTQ violence or harassment, or shares views that such actions may be justified, the lack of a staunch advocate at the State Department could result in the United States overlooking, minimizing, or ignoring even the most blatant examples of human rights abuses abroad.
Chad Griffin, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, issued a statement calling Pompeo a “reckless choice to lead our nation’s diplomatic efforts.”
“The decision to nominate anti-LGBTQ Mike Pompeo could have serious consequences for the United States and LGBTQ people around the globe,” Griffin said. “The State Department has a crucial role to play in advancing human rights — a role which was already rapidly declining under Tillerson. This decision has the potential to make a dire situation even worse. Pompeo does not deserve to be confirmed.”
“We have already seen a State Department under President Trump that has stayed silent and refused to take necessary steps to combat and condemn the growing epidemic of anti-LGBTQ violence around the world, and now that department will be helmed by someone with an extensive anti-LGBTQ record,” Sarah Kate Ellis, the president and CEO of GLAAD, said in a statement.
“During his time in the Trump Administration, Mike Pompeo has personally consulted with Family Research Council, an anti-LGBTQ hate group that supported Uganda’s efforts to punish and execute LGBTQ people,” Ellis added. “This extremism should have no place in the U.S. State Department.”
Tillerson’s tenure as Secretary of State was marked by an often volatile relationship with Trump, with the two clashing on a number of foreign policy issues where Trump saw Tillerson’s more traditional worldview of foreign policy as “too establishment.” The two have sparred over the Trump administration’s ending of the nuclear deal with Iran, Tillerson’s diplomatic efforts aimed at North Korea, and his attempts to broker peaceful negotiations in the Middle East.
At one point, Tillerson allegedly referred to Trump as a “moron,” which Trump responded to by challenging the Secretary to an IQ test. The White House also weakened Tillerson’s power at Foggy Bottom by blocking him from making key appointments within the State Department.
As Pompeo replaces Tillerson at the State Department, Gina Haspel, the CIA’s deputy director, will succeed the former congressman at the CIA, and, pending her confirmation by the Senate, will become the first female head of the U.S. spy agency.
There is no word yet on when confirmation hearings for Pompeo or Haspel will be scheduled.