Gina Haspel was confirmed by the Senate to run the CIA Thursday, despite some lingering concerns over her role in the use of torture techniques while acting as station chief in Thailand.
Haspel became the first woman to run the spy agency after a 33-year tenure which included filling in as the acting director. Despite opposition from three Republicans, she won the position with a vote of 51-43, after gaining the votes of six key Democrats. Four of those Democrats face tough midterm elections later this year in red states.
The most vulnerable of all Democratic Senators, West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, who is campaigning for re-election in a state that overwhelmingly supported President Donald Trump in 2016, told his supporters that he supported Haspel because she was “an unbelievable public servant,” who prioritizes the safety of America. In her hands “I feel very comfortable and very good,” he added.
A similar position was adopted by North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp, who also faces an uphill battle for re-election this year. In a statement, Heitkamp wrote that while the decision was not an easy one, she believes it’s up to President Donald Trump to pick the CIA director who he believes is best suited to the job. She also said she would “ensure Congress conducts robust oversight of the CIA under her leadership.”
Indiana Senator Joe Donnelly, also up for re-election, said that he believed Haspel “has learned from the past, and that the CIA under her leadership can help our country confront serious international threats and challenges.” Also in the midst of a fraught election year, Florida Senator Bill Nelson met with Haspel personally and said that he believed she would be fit to serve.
Meanwhile, two Senators who don’t have to worry about answering to red-state voters during an election year extended their support for Haspel. New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen said that she was satisfied with Haspel’s acknowledgment that the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation program” harmed moral leadership and wouldn’t be used again.
Senator Mark Warner, vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, cast the deciding vote. In a speech on the Senate floor, Warner said that Haspel is “someone who can and will stand up to the president, who will speak truth to power if this president orders her to do something illegal or immoral—like a return to torture.”
Republican Senators John McCain, Jeff Flake and Rand Paul voted against Haspel’s nomination.