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GOP senators give tepid response to John Ratcliffe, Trump's pick for spy chief

CNN logo CNN 7/29/2019 By Ted Barrett, Manu Raju and Jeremy Herb, CNN

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President Donald Trump's choice of Rep. John Ratcliffe to replace respected former Sen. Dan Coats as Director of National Intelligence in one of the most powerful and sensitive jobs in government, has gotten a tepid response to this point from Republican senators, signaling the Texas Republican, a Trump loyalist who lacks intelligence experience, could face a fight to be confirmed.

Of the handful of GOP senators who put out public statements about the change, they all praised the professionalism and integrity of the departing Coats, but not one has mentioned -- much less embraced --Ratcliffe.

This includes Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and two GOP members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Roy Blunt of Missouri and Susan Collins of Maine.

"I was reassured knowing that a man who took such a deliberate, thoughtful, and unbiased approach was at the helm of our intelligence community," McConnell said in a statement issued late Sunday.

Rep. John Ratcliffe wearing a suit and tie: Rep. John Ratcliffe, a Texas Republican, is seen questioning former special counsel Robert Mueller as he testifies before the House Intelligence Committee in Washington last week. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) © Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images Rep. John Ratcliffe, a Texas Republican, is seen questioning former special counsel Robert Mueller as he testifies before the House Intelligence Committee in Washington last week. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) "Dan Coats and I served on the Senate Intelligence Committee together. His questions were always tough and he demanded the best from the agencies that reported to us. He had the same standards as Director of National Intelligence. He handled a hard job well," Blunt said in a statement Monday. 

"Dan Coats is one of the finest public servants I have ever known," Collins said in a statement Sunday. "He led the intelligence community with integrity and skill, and his departure is a huge loss to our country."

The New York Times reported that Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, a Republican from North Carolina, "cautioned the president's advisers that he considered Mr. Ratcliffe too political for the post, according to people familiar with the discussions."

Burr's office declined to comment about the Times' report.

While it's far too early to know if Ratcliffe, who is a member of the House Intelligence Committee, is endangered, Burr's reported concerns could carry weight with rank-and-file Republican senators who were comforted with the gravitas and heft that Coats — who as a senator was a member of the Intelligence Committee — brought to the post, especially when he clashed with Trump on key intelligence matters.

GOP senators may also not know Ratcliffe very well, seeing him in the public eye for the first time just last week when the conservative congressman made a high-profile challenge to former special counsel Robert Mueller, defended Trump, and downplayed the threat from Russia.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer slammed the choice of Ratcliffe, saying he is a "partisan player" who "exhibited blind loyalty" to Trump when he took on Mueller. Schumer's views signal Democrats are unlikely to provide many -- if any -- votes for Ratcliffe.

Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate. That means if Democrats stand together against Ratcliffe, Republicans can lose no more than three GOP senators and still get him confirmed with the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Mike Pence.

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