The Senate on Thursday confirmed U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Heath, as director of national intelligence, elevating him to a cabinet-level position in the Trump administration and creating a vacancy for a congressional seat in Texas.
The confirmation vote was 49-44 and brought a relatively smooth conclusion to a nomination process that started off rocky. Ratcliffe was first tabbed by President Donald Trump for the position, which oversees the nation's 17 intelligence agencies, in July. But his path to becoming director of national intelligence initially hit a snag when the The Washington Post reported that a claim on Ratcliffe's website that he arrested "over 300 illegal immigrants on a single day" as a federal prosecuting attorney was an exaggeration. He also faced questions over whether he overstated his role as a federal prosecutor in a terrorism financing case.
Ratcliffe withdrew from consideration within a week as questions were raised about his credentials and whether he inflated parts of his biography. But Trump then nominated him six months later, calling him an "outstanding man of great talent." Ratcliffe has been a vocal ally for Trump, defending the president during impeachment hearings in 2019. He was reportedly previously considered as a potential replacement for former Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
His nomination has received strong support among Republicans. At Ratcliffe's confirmation hearing, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, called the nominee a man of character who understood the difference between being a politician and being an appointed official. Retiring U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, a former CIA undercover agent, also endorsed Ratcliffe, citing his professional experience, "capacity to selflessly lead," and his understanding of "threats to our security and way of life."
All of the Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee voted against advancing his nomination. But the minority party allowed the chamber to move quickly on a full vote on the nomination this week in order to get a Senate-confirmed nominee into the job in place of controversial acting director Richard Grenell.
In his confirmation hearing, Ratcliffe expressed a need for the intelligence community to remain apolitical.
“I will deliver the unvarnished truth," Ratcliffe said. "It won’t be shaded for anyone. What anyone wants the intelligence to reflect won’t impact the intelligence I deliver.”
Meanwhile, the race to replace Ratcliffe has already begun in his northeast Texas district. Ratcliffe already won the Republican primary for the seat, meaning his replacement on the November ballot will be selected by a group of activists that make up what is called the Congressional District Executive Committee. The committee will meet on Aug. 8 to select a nominee.
While the November winner would start serving in January, less certain is what would happen with the rest of Ratcliffe's term. Gov. Greg Abbott could call a special election on the same date of the November election or sooner — or he could leave the seat vacant until Ratcliffe's permanent successor takes office in January.
Ratcliffe's initial election to the seat in 2014 came as a surprise to many, and was hailed as a sign of the power of the Tea Party movement. That year, he unseated the late Ralph Hall, R-Rockwall. Hall was a 91 year old, 17-term congressman.
Abby Livingston contributed reporting.