STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
CIA Director Mike Pompeo is not confirmed as secretary of state but is doing some diplomacy. President Trump spoke yesterday of Pompeo's previously secret mission to clear the way for a summit with North Korea's leader.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: He just left North Korea, had a great meeting with Kim Jong Un, and got along with him really well, really great. He's that kind of a guy. He's very smart, but he gets along with people. So I think that Mike will be in good shape. We'll see what happens.
INSKEEP: We do not know exactly what happens with Pompeo's nomination. At this moment, he may lack the votes to be confirmed by the Senate. It's very closely divided. Democrats are opposed. A few Republicans, also doubtful. Maryland Senator Ben Cardin is one of the Democrats on the committee now considering his nomination. He's on the line. Senator, welcome back to the program.
BEN CARDIN: Steve, it's good to be with you. Thank you.
INSKEEP: First, is it OK with you that Pompeo's not been confirmed but he went to North Korea doing, essentially, a diplomatic task?
CARDIN: Well, Mr. Pompeo is a member of the Trump cabinet. He's a confirmed member, CIA director. I think the president has the right to use his cabinet people to pave the way for what we hope will be diplomacy that can lead to the end of the crisis in North Korea. So I really don't have a problem with him using members of his cabinet in this capacity. There is an issue, though, because he is being considered for secretary of state.
INSKEEP: And let's talk about that consideration. Why are you so concerned about him?
CARDIN: Well, as our chief diplomat, I am concerned that he would not work with our European allies and with the global community on key issues. He is - I'm not sure he would be an independent voice to the president. I say that because he's opposed to our participation in the Paris climate talks. That's where the entire world is sitting together trying to resolve an issue, and our diplomat needs to be at the table. He also, I am concerned, would not work with our Europeans in regards to the Iran nuclear agreement. The Transatlantic Partnership is critically important to our national security. So our chief diplomat really needs a person who's willing to engage our partners.
INSKEEP: Well, let me ask about something here, though. The Washington Post, as you probably know, had an editorial. This is the newspaper of many of your Maryland constituents. And The Post editorial board is no fan of Pompeo's policy views, either. But the headline on the article was, "Confirm Mike Pompeo," and they write, rejecting or delaying his nomination as Mr. Trump juggles multiple crises without adequate counsel probably would make an already parlous situation worse. Are they right?
CARDIN: Well, I agree with The Washington Post that we have a chaotic situation with the president in conducting foreign policy. He conducts foreign policy through tweets. I don't think that's going to change whether he has a confirmed or doesn't have a confirmed secretary of state. So I think the chaos that The Washington Post is talking about, it's been created by the president and is likely to continue.
INSKEEP: So you don't think it matters whether he is confirmed right away or not?
CARDIN: No, I think we need a secretary of state. We need confirmed people. No question about it. I'm disappointed that we don't have a nominee that would be a more independent voice to the president. The president, as you...
INSKEEP: Let me ask about the independents also because it is true that Pompeo has made a number of rather admiring statements about the president that he frequently sees. But there are issues in which he differs with the president, one of them being Russia. He seems to have a much more aggressive stance against Russia than the president has been willing to have. Do you think he could press the president on that issue?
CARDIN: Well, that's what we'll wait to see. He has said some strong comments about Russia. That is correct. I happen to see more agreement with him with my position on Russia than certainly with the president of the United States. I think that will be a healthy part of the comment. The question, though, is diplomacy. He's seeking to become the secretary of state, which is the top diplomat in America. The diplomat must work with other countries. And his positions on key issues show that he's prepared for America to go it alone.
INSKEEP: Well, you mentioned that he's going for a new position than what he has. But when he was considered for CIA director, the Senate vote was 66 to 32 in his favor. A bunch of Democrats concluded he was OK then. What argument can you make to those Democrats that they should vote differently now?
CARDIN: As you know, I did not support his nomination for CIA director. It's a different post. CIA director, of course, is dealing with our intelligence community. Here we're talking about dealing with the global community on diplomacy. So it is a different skill set to be the CIA director and to be the secretary of state.
INSKEEP: One other thing. Pompeo has been criticized for some of his statements about Muslims. There was an occasion on which he said, silence has made these Islamic leaders across America potentially complicit in these acts. He was referring to the Boston Marathon bombing. A number of Islamic groups actually had criticized that bombing. Has he reassured you at all that he will treat people of all religions fairly?
CARDIN: I am concerned about his comments. Your words have consequences, and what he said is just absolutely wrong. And after the attack on our country, I met with Muslim leaders in Maryland and they were very outspoken about the violence. So I think Mr. Pompeo's words are very inappropriate and would make it more challenging for him to work as our top diplomat.
INSKEEP: Senator, thanks very much. Always a pleasure talking with you.
CARDIN: Thank you.
INSKEEP: Ben Cardin is a Democrat representing Maryland, and he joined us via Skype. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.