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'I Haven't Met Him Yet' And Other GOP Responses To Rep. Ratcliffe's Nomination

Jul 31, 2019
Originally published on July 31, 2019 11:49 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We have some initial reaction to the president's choice to lead the intelligence community. The reaction comes from the Senate, which would consider the nomination of John Ratcliffe. He is a member of the House of Representatives. He has fiercely defended the president and, clearly, has caught the attention of the president but has not caught everyone's attention. NPR's Tim Mak reports you could sum up Senate Republicans' responses with two words - John who?

TIM MAK, BYLINE: When Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell first reacted to Ratcliffe's nomination, he praised outgoing Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats, but he made no mention of Ratcliffe himself. And Tuesday, McConnell hardly had a ringing endorsement.

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MITCH MCCONNELL: I haven't met him yet. I look forward to meeting with him.

MAK: The Senate majority leader clearly wasn't ready to support the nomination.

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MCCONNELL: Generally speaking, I would, you know, lean toward the president's nominees. And I'd rather not address that until I've actually had a chance to meet him and discuss his background and qualifications.

MAK: The one thing that senators do know about him is his questioning of former special counsel Robert Mueller last week. Ratcliffe gave an extended criticism about how he felt the Mueller report overstepped, and he said it should not have laid out the evidence for Trump's potential obstruction of justice.

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JOHN RATCLIFFE: I agree with the chairman, this morning, when he said Donald Trump is not above the law. He's not. But he damn sure shouldn't be below the law, which is where Volume 2 of this report puts him.

MAK: Other than six months on the House Intelligence Committee and his involvement as a prosecutor who worked on terrorism issues during the George W. Bush administration, his credentials on the issue are sparse. And Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican member of the Intelligence Committee, said none of his colleagues are familiar with Ratcliffe.

MARCO RUBIO: I may be the only member of the Intelligence Committee that knows him.

MAK: Rubio said he knew him through former Congressman Trey Gowdy, a mutual friend.

RUBIO: I've never talked to him about the function of the intelligence community so I'd - but I like him personally. But I'd need to meet with him and talk to him before I can give you a judgment.

MAK: And Senator Susan Collins, a moderate Republican who also sits on the Intelligence Committee, said in a statement, quote, "I don't know Congressman John Ratcliffe at all." But she added that her committee will thoroughly consider his nomination. Ratcliffe does have some defenders, however. As a Texas congressman, Ratcliffe serves in the same state delegation as Republican Senator John Cornyn, who says he backs him.

JOHN CORNYN: I wish people would talk to Mr. Ratcliffe and evaluate his nomination based on who he is and what he has to offer for the job rather than make a decision ahead of time without ever meeting him or talking to him.

MAK: But it appears he has already turned off a Democrat who has been willing to confirm Trump's nominees in the past. Moderate Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia said Ratcliffe had given a toxic presentation during the Mueller hearings and was too political.

JOE MANCHIN: Everything I have seen - and people that do know and have delved into it thinks that he's the wrong person at the wrong time for the wrong job he'd be placed in.

MAK: With 53 votes in the Senate, Republicans can only lose three senators at most if they hope to confirm Ratcliffe. His nomination has not even been formally sent up to the Senate, and he's already on shaky ground. Tim Mak, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.