Senate confirms Haspel as CIA’s first female director

The Senate on Thursday confirmed acting CIA Director Gina Haspel as the agency’s first female leader.

Four Democrats facing reelection this year in states President Donald Trump won in 2016 helped push the 33-year CIA veteran over the finish line. Haspel faced opposition from most Democrats and Republican Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and John McCain of Arizona, who was absent due to his health, over her role in the agency’s post-9/11 interrogation program, which involved using tactics later deemed torture against detained terrorism suspects.

The moderate Democrats up for reelection — Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Bill Nelson of Florida — were joined by fellow Democrats Mark Warner of Virginia and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire in the 54-45 vote.

Republicans have a slim majority in the Senate, and Haspel needed to sway undecided Democrats in order to be by a healthy margin. She seemed likely to succeed after she won over Warner earlier this week when she acknowledged in a letter that, in hindsight, the interrogation program “ultimately did damage to our officers and our standing in the world.”

Her confirmation to succeed former CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who was confirmed late last month to serve as secretary of state, follows Wednesday’s private intelligence committee vote to advance her nomination.

“The safety and security of the American people depend on capable intelligence leadership,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said earlier Thursday. “Gina Haspel is the right woman at the right time. Senators on both sides of the aisle agree.”

Liberal and human rights groups tried to pressure Democrats to oppose Haspel, but ultimately, not even McCain’s opposition could stop her from being confirmed. Even before her hearing, GOP leaders were projecting confidence that she would be installed as the first female director of the CIA by the end of the month.

McCain, a revered figure who was held as a prisoner of war and tortured in Vietnam, called Haspel’s role overseeing the interrogation program “disturbing” last week and said, “Her refusal to acknowledge torture’s immorality is disqualifying.”

McCain’s position sparked a weeklong controversy when news leaked that a White House aide had dismissed his opposition because “he’s dying anyway.” But ultimately, the hubbub had little impact on Haspel’s confirmation.

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