The Senate Intelligence Committee is preparing to hold a confirmation hearing as early as next week for President Donald Trump’s pick to lead the nation’s 17 intelligence agencies, two sources familiar with the matter told POLITICO.
Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas), the president’s director of national intelligence nominee, will face senators as Congress deals with the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, which has kept the Senate largely out of session for more than a month. The Senate is expected to return to Washington on Monday, while the House canceled plans to reconvene next week.
Confirming Ratcliffe as the nation’s top intelligence official would send Richard Grenell, the acting director of national intelligence, back to Berlin for his primary job of U.S. ambassador to Germany. Grenell is a Trump loyalist who took over when Trump forced out Joseph Maguire after the president learned Maguire had authorized congressional briefings on Russia’s attempts to interfere in the 2020 election.
Republican senators were cool to Ratcliffe the first time Trump signaled his intention last July to nominate the firebrand conservative congressman, who initially withdrew from consideration over questions about whether he embellished his resume.
GOP leaders and rank-and-file senators alike have largely avoided commenting on Ratcliffe’s qualifications to lead the U.S. intelligence apparatus. Several said they simply did not know much about Ratcliffe, but they appeared eager to consider his nomination quickly so that Grenell, who had no experience within the intelligence community, could return to Germany.
Ratcliffe rose to national prominence during the House hearings with former special counsel Robert Mueller and, later, the chamber’s impeachment inquiry, during which he emerged as a vocal defender of the president. Some GOP senators, including members of the intelligence committee, have indicated that they will support Ratcliffe’s nomination.
CNN first reported the committee’s plans. A spokeswoman for Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the panel’s chairman, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The details for a possible hearing next week have not been confirmed, as aides consider a format that takes into account the federal coronavirus guidelines on social distancing.
Ratcliffe previously served as U.S. attorney in Texas, and he was first elected to the House in 2014. He serves on the House intelligence and judiciary committees, giving him a prominent stage as House Democrats led myriad investigations targeting the president last year. Democrats have argued that Ratcliffe is too much of a partisan to occupy the chief intelligence post, and they are expected to largely oppose his nomination.
Trump’s first director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, was widely respected on both sides of the political aisle and often broke with the president in public statements, in particular with regard to Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
The Senate Intelligence Committee has distinguished itself as one of the few functional bipartisan entities on Capitol Hill. Just last week, the panel released a report backing up the intelligence community’s initial assessment of Russia’s attempts to meddle in the 2016 campaign — specifically, that the efforts were aimed at helping put Trump in the White House. That report was voted out of the committee unanimously by the panel’s members, which range from Trump loyalists to progressive insurgents.
Martin Matishak contributed to this report.