Will Mike Pompeo’s Christian Convictions Translate Into Policy Shifts?
Trump’s Secretary of State nominee has strong credentials as a defender of human life, marriage and family, and religious freedom.
WASHINGTON — With strong pro-life credentials, Christian convictions and socially conservative views, hopes are high for the newly designated Secretary of State Mike Pompeo among advocates for the international pro-life and pro-family movements.
According to The Hill website, a Senate panel will hold a confirmation hearing sometime in April.
On March 13, President Donald Trump nominated Pompeo, 54, to succeed Rex Tillerson as secretary of state after March 31.
Pompeo, who has served as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency under Trump, will likely run into resistance in the bureaucracy at the State Department, but observers believe the former congressman and U.S. Army officer who finished first in his class at West Point has what it takes to shift U.S. foreign policy in a new direction.
“He has all the credentials to be highly effective. Aside from his experience in Congress, he has been at the CIA for over a year, so he’s familiar with the deep state. I’m sure if he has the right people around him, he will be able to do a lot of good things,” said Stefano Gennarini, the director of legal studies for the Center for Family and Human Rights.
Gennarini told the Register that he is hopeful that, under Pompeo’s leadership, the State Department will promote norms that exist in international law, such as Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that recognizes the family as the natural and fundamental unit of society entitled to protection from the state.
“You can’t promote something unrealistic like homosexual marriage in Pakistan and in the Middle East,” Gennarini said. “It’s suicidal in terms of the United States’ standing in the world, and it erodes a lot of good faith in the U.S.”
Steven Mosher, the president of the Population Research Institute, told the Register that with Pompeo and former Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, who is now serving as ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, Americans can expect to see a State Department that will be more focused on religious freedom overseas and in providing assistance to persecuted religious minorities, including Christians in the Middle East and China. The Virginia-based nonprofit challenges global overpopulation theories and spotlights human-rights abuses in population-control programs,
“Perhaps most of all,” Mosher added, “I am pleased that he is a committed evangelical Christian who believes, as he has said, that ‘Jesus Christ is the only solution for our world.’”
Pompeo, 54, graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1986 and served as a cavalry and infantry officer in the U.S. Army. Upon leaving active duty, he graduated from Harvard Law School, where he served as editor of the Harvard Law Review.
Pompeo worked in private business before being elected to Congress in 2010 as a Tea Party Republican. He served four terms representing Kansas’ 4th Congressional District.
In 2014, he was appointed to serve on the House Select Benghazi Committee that investigated the tragic attack on two U.S. diplomatic facilities in Libya in September 2012.
As a congressman, Pompeo made headlines for his pro-life views and Christian faith. He said that life begins at conception and voted to defund Planned Parenthood, which he called the “largest commercial provider of abortions in the United States.” Pompeo told The Associated Press that abortions should only be allowed to save the life of the mother.
In 2011, Pompeo voted for the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, which would have banned federal health coverage that includes abortion. That same year, Pompeo also voted in favor of a prohibition on funding the United Nations Population Fund.
Pompeo has also opposed same-sex “marriage” and co-sponsored bills such as the State Marriage Defense Act, a 2014 bill that would have allowed states to continue to not recognize same-sex “marriages” after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
In 2013, Pompeo co-sponsored the Marriage and Religious Freedom Act, a bill that sought to protect the tax-exempt status of nonprofit organizations with religious objections to same-sex “marriage.” The bill never made it out of committee.
Pompeo, who is married with a son, is reportedly a Presbyterian deacon who has taught fifth-grade Sunday school class.
In 2014, Pompeo said during a church event that Jesus Christ “is truly the only solution for our world.”
His bona fides in terms of defending life, marriage and religious freedom have garnered praise from pro-life advocates and social conservatives.
Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, said in a March 13 statement that the president made a good choice to head a federal agency that Perkins said has “historically and consistently been at cross purposes with American values and principles.”
“Mike Pompeo is a proven leader, and I am very confident that he will be the desperately needed agent of change at State,” Perkins said.
Mosher said he expects Pompeo to vigorously support the Mexico City Policy, which prohibits U.S. tax dollars from being used to promote or perform abortions in foreign nations, and to work to end the State Department’s “incessant promotion” of abortion overseas.
“All in all, he could very well turn out to be the most pro-life secretary of state ever,” Mosher said.
Having strong traditionally Christian and pro-life views may endear Pompeo among pro-life and pro-family advocates who monitor foreign policy, but some observers question how effective Pompeo can be in directing the nation’s foreign policy apparatus in a more conservative direction. “At a rhetorical level, he will certainly use his State Department position as a bully pulpit on some of these issues,” said Michael Desch, a political science professor who is the director of the University of Notre Dame’s International Security Center.
Desch told the Register that he believes Pompeo’s ability to advance a concrete agenda on those issues is likely to be far more limited. He argued that the most effective way to implement change on the ground is through foreign aid, which Desch said is not politically popular among conservatives.
“The conservative position on foreign aid has a built-in paradox, which is that we don’t like giving foreign aid, but wthout being committed to being a big funder, you really can’t shape these programs,” Desch said.
Also, pushing for stronger protections for the rights of persecuted Christians overseas is far more complicated than condemning Iran, Syria or China. Desch noted that Pompeo will have to navigate the reality that U.S. allies such as Saudi Arabia also mistreat Christians.
In addition, Pompeo will need to work in an establishment where a good portion of foreign policy is crafted outside the State Department at the Department of Defense and the National Security Council. And in the mercurial Trump administration, knowing how to work well with the president is necessary, which Pompeo has shown a knack for doing as the CIA director.
“I would imagine that he would continue that as secretary of state,” Desch said.
Gennarini, of the Center for Family and Human Rights, said he hopes to see Pompeo continue the tone that the Trump administration has already set in foreign policy, including expanding the Mexico City Policy and moving to implement a reported plan to remove abortion and other contentious issues from the State Department’s annual “Human-Rights Report.”
“It’s not going to be easy,” Gennarini said. “Pompeo is not going to come in and change everything overnight, but I think he can come in and set in motion the reforms needed to make sure that at least some of the damage done under the Obama administration will be undone.”
Register correspondent Brian Fraga writes from Fall River, Massachusetts.