White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders forcefully entered the debate over President Donald Trump's choice for CIA director Saturday, tweeting that any Democrat who doesn’t back nominee Gina Haspel is a “total hypocrite.”
“There is no one more qualified to be the first woman to lead the CIA than 30+ year CIA veteran Gina Haspel,” Sanders tweeted. “Any Democrat who claims to support women’s empowerment and our national security but opposes her nomination is a total hypocrite.”
Beginning Wednesday, Haspel faces a contentious confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee, ahead of what the White House acknowledges will likely be a close confirmation vote on the Senate floor.
Debate over Haspel's nomination is split between those who praise her experience and those who want her disqualified because of her role in the CIA’s harsh interrogation of terror subjects and destruction of videotapes showing waterboarding after 9/11.
Also backing Haspel's nomination recently was former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, during an appearance last week on “Fox and Friends.”
“If you were not in a position of authority on September 11th, you have no idea the pressures that we faced to try and make sure that this country wasn’t attacked again,” Rice said.
“If you were not in a position of authority on September 11th, you have no idea the pressures that we faced to try and make sure that this country wasn’t attacked again.”
If Haspel's nomination advances to the Senate, she would need backing from at least 50 senators. In the event of a tie, Vice President Mike Pence -- in his role as president of the Senate -- would cast the deciding vote.
With the likely absence of U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who is battling brain cancer and recuperating in Arizona after recent surgery, Republicans hold a 50-49 advantage in the Senate.
McCain, 81, who was tortured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, was instrumental in getting Congress to prohibit harsh interrogation techniques, including those used on terror suspects after 9/11, and has said that any CIA nominee must pledge to uphold the ban.
Meanwhile, Sanders' Saturday tweet drew some criticism, including from U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., who objected to Sanders' linking of the Haspel vote to women’s empowerment or national security.
“Dear @PressSec: Perhaps I missed it, but I don’t see being complicit in torture as part of the agenda for either women’s empowerment or our national security.”
Walter Shaub, a former director of the U.S. Government Office of Ethics, tweeted a middle-ground response.
“@PressSec @morgfair Seems to me that people can legitimately object to her role in torture while also encouraging this administration to increase the diversity of its appointees,” Shaub tweeted.
Haspel, 61, is the first woman nominated for the CIA director position. If confirmed, she would replace former CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who was recently confirmed as U.S. Secretary of State.
Haspel, who joined the CIA in 1985, is currently the intelligence agency’s acting director.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.