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With Haspel Confirmation Pending, Torture Opponents Target Fence-Sitters Flake, Heitkamp, and Others

"The Senate must #BlockHaspel. We can't accept a #CIA leader who oversaw #torture and sought to destroy the evidence."

Gina Haspel

Gina Haspel, nominee to be director of the CIA, met with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) May 7, 2018 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. ahead of her confirmation hearing. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

With at least two Senate Democrats now supporting Gina Haspel's nomination to run the CIA, despite her leadership role in the Bush administration's post-9/11 torture program, those working to #BlockHaspel are ramping up pressure on senators from both parties who are on the fence or may be swayed by the nominee's horrific past.

Constituents and human rights advocates who oppose President Donald Trump's nominee to lead the spy agency are targeting Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.)—who has spoken out against president at times, though largely supported Trump's agenda with his votes—and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), who has broken with her party before, such as when she disappointed Democrats and progressives by voting for Mike Pompeo to become secretary of state despite his hawkish record.

While Democratic Sens. Joe Donnelly (Ind.) and Joe Manchin (W.Va.) have already thrown their support behind Haspel, Republican Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.) and John McCain (Ariz.) are opposed. However, considering McCain's deteriorating health as he battles brain cancer and the fact that Republicans hold 51 seats in the Senate, even with Independent Sens. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) and Angus King (Maine) voting no, critics of Haspel need to convince all Democrats and a few more Republicans to block her confirmation.

Flake is one such Republican who may be susceptible to McCain's pleas that his colleagues reject Haspel because "her refusal to acknowledge torture's immorality is disqualifying." McCain, who was tortured as a prisoner of war after his plane was shot down during a bombing mission in Vietnam, has been "a mentor" to Flake, CNN noted last week. And, given that he is retiring at the end of his term, Flake can vote his conscience without the associated pressures of bucking the party majority during a re-election year.


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Although Flake hasn't yet said which way he'll vote, the senator said McCain's statement against Haspel will "affect everyone," and added, "I'm glad that he's spoken up." Flake has also criticized the Trump White House for refusing to condemn a staffer who reportedly dismissed McCain's remarks about Haspel by saying in a private meeting, "It doesn't matter, he's dying anyway."

McCain's ability to flip votes, however, appears weak so far. As the New York Times pointed out, both Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), "his best friend in the Senate," and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), "who is also close to Mr. McCain and previously has sided with him on issues of torture," have said they are voting for Haspel—even as Graham continues to demand that the White House apologize for the staffer's private comment.

With a full Senate vote expected soon, following Haspel's hearing with the chamber's intelligence committee last week, Indivisible and other groups have taken to social media to keep track of senators' stances, maintain pressure on those who are on the fence, and urge constituents to contact their members of Congress to encourage them to reject her:

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