Ratcliffe wins Senate approval to be intelligence director

Democrats had expressed concern about the Texas Republican’s qualifications and past overstatements in his record

Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, was confirmed as director of national intelligence. (AP File Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)
Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, was confirmed as director of national intelligence. (AP File Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)
Posted May 21, 2020 at 12:50pm

The Senate confirmed President Donald Trump’s choice to lead the nation's intelligence services Thursday.

While Democrats lined up against the confirmation of Texas Republican Rep. John Ratcliffe to be director of national intelligence, they did not fight Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s effort to set up a speedy confirmation vote ahead of Memorial Day weekend.

“John Ratcliffe will lead the intelligence community in countering threats from great powers, rogue nations and terrorists — and ensuring that work is untainted by political bias,” McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said Thursday on the Senate floor.

The final vote, 49-44, was predictably partisan. But Democrats have not been pleased with the acting intelligence director, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, so there was little incentive to try to stall Ratcliffe’s inevitable confirmation.

Democrats had expressed concern both about Ratcliffe’s qualifications for the job and for past overstatements he made about his record.

“Over the past few months, we have watched President Trump try to short-circuit nearly every measure of independence and accountability within the executive branch by baselessly firing one inspector general after another,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said in a floor speech outlining his opposition to Ratcliffe’s confirmation.

“This is a dangerous pattern that should send a shiver down the spine of anyone [in a] democracy and is particularly relevant to the intelligence community, which must be able to inform the president of dangerous truths,” the New York Democrat said. “Mr. Ratcliffe unfortunately has not demonstrated the qualities nor the independence that we should expect of the next leader of the intelligence community.”

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Trump named Ratcliffe publicly as his choice to replace Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats in July when the former Indiana senator was leaving the post. At the time, he did not move forward as the nominee.

History repeated itself at the end of February when the president announced on Twitter, as he did before, that Ratcliffe was in line for the intelligence job.

Ratcliffe has been serving on the House Intelligence Committee, as well as the Ethics and Judiciary committees. He was one of the House lawmakers who was a vocal defender of the president during the 2020 Senate impeachment trial.

Among the questions from Democrats in the week ahead of the confirmation vote were several seeking clarity on Ratcliffe’s views on what constitutes torture, as well as whether he had read the summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s mammoth report on the use of torture techniques by the CIA during the presidency of George W. Bush

Vacates a deep red seat

Ratcliffe will be resigning his House seat to take the senior Trump administration position, and Ratcliffe’s confirmation opens up a heavily GOP seat in northeastern Texas. The 4th District is situated outside of Dallas and borders Arkansas.

Because the Texas primary has already passed, Republican leaders in the 4th District may select a candidate to replace Ratcliffe on the November ballot in the race for a full term. State GOP chairman James Dickey wrote to county party leaders and precinct chairs in the 4th District last week, informing them that they would select a nominee at an Aug. 8 meeting.

The Texas Tribune reported that at least three Republicans have thrown their hats into the ring. They include Ratcliffe’s former district director Jason Ross and Navy veteran Floyd McLendon, who lost a GOP primary in the neighboring 32nd District, where Democratic Rep. Colin Allred faces a competitive race. The third candidate is Navy veteran T.C. Manning, who also lost a primary to take on Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee in the heavily Democratic 18th District, which includes Houston.

The GOP leaders’ pick is expected to be in a strong position to win the district in November. Trump carried the 4th District by 54 percentage points in 2014. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Solidly Republican.

Ratcliffe’s exit will also spark a special election for the remainder of his term in the House.

That election date is likely to coincide with the general election in November because Texas law stipulates that a vacancy be filled on the next election date. Candidates from all parties run on the same ballot in the special election.

Chris Cioffi contributed to this story.