Trump nominee Mike Pompeo pledges to rebuild State Department

WASHINGTON, April 12 (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State nominee Mike Pompeo promised on Thursday to rebuild the State Department that has been gutted by the departure of senior diplomats and has found itself sidelined in foreign policy decisions under the Trump administration.

A reorganization and hiring freeze initiated by former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has left the rank and file demoralized, with vacancies in most of the jobs that are filled by political appointees.

Pompeo, director of the CIA, said he would work quickly in his new role to fill the gaps.

"This is critical to strengthening the finest diplomatic corps in the world, and America and the world needs us to be that," he said in his confirmation hearing at the Senate.

President Donald Trump nominated Pompeo to become the country's top diplomat on March 13 when he fired Tillerson. Tillerson, a former chief executive of Exxon Mobil, had a rocky relationship with Trump in just over a year in the job.

RELATED: A look at Mike Pompeo

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., holds a meeting with CIA Director nominee Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., in his Capitol office on Monday, Dec. 5, 2016.

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Mike Pompeo (L) is sworn in as CIA Director by Vice President Mike Pence (R) as wife Susan Pompeo (2nd L) looks on at Eisenhower Executive Office Building January 23, 2017 in Washington, DC. Pompeo was confirmed for the position by the Senate this evening.

(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

UNITED STATES - JUNE 28: Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., right, chairman of the Select Committee on Benghazi, conducts a news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center, June 28, 2016, to announce the Committee's report on the 2012 attacks in Libya that killed four Americans. Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., also appears. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Representative Mike Pompeo, a Republican from Kansas and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director nominee for President-elect Donald Trump, swears in to a Senate Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017. Pompeo is seeking to reassure senators that he can shift from an outspoken policymaker to an objective spy chief if confirmed.

(Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., holds a meeting with CIA Director nominee Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., in his Capitol office on Monday, Dec. 5, 2016.

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Representative Mike Pompeo (R-KS) arrives to testify before a Senate Intelligence hearing on his nomination of to be become director of the CIA at Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 12, 2017.

(REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (R) finishes swearing in Mike Pompeo, flanked by his wife Susan Pompeo, to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the vice president's ceremonial office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 23, 2017.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

Mike Pompeo gets a hug from supporter Jennifer O'Connor after arriving at the Sedgwick County Republican headquarters at Market Centre in Wichita, Kansas, on Tuesday, November 6, 2012.

(Fernando Salazar/Wichita Eagle/MCT via Getty Images)

Adam Schiff (D-CA) left, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) center, and moderator Chuck Todd, right, appear on 'Meet the Press' in Washington, D.C., Sunday, Oct. 18, 2015.

(William B. Plowman/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for the director of the CIA, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) attends his confirmation hearing before the Senate (Select) Intelligence Committee on January 12, 2017 in Washington, DC. Mr. Pompeo is a former Army officer who graduated first in his class from West Point.

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) listens as Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) speaks during his confirmation hearing to be the director of the CIA before the Senate (Select) Intelligence Committee on January 12, 2017 in Washington, DC. Mr. Pompeo is a former Army officer who graduated first in his class from West Point.

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., speaks during the news conference before a group of House Republican freshmen walked to the Senate to deliver a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid on Wednesday, March 30, 2011. The letter called on the Senate to pass a long term continuing resolution with spending cuts.

(Photo By Bill Clark/Roll Call)

US Congressman Mike Pompeo (C), R-Kansas, sits in the dark after a power failure with US Senator Pat Roberts (L), a former Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and former US Senator Bob Dole (R), R-Kansas, as he prepares to testify before the Senate (Select) Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, January 12, 2017, on his nomination to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the Trump administration.

(JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., center, nominee for director of the Central Intelligence Agency, is introduced by former Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., right, and Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., during Pompeo's Senate Select Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing in Dirksen Building, January 12, 2017. The hearing was moved from Hart Building due to a peer outage.

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Incoming Trump administration cabinet secretary nominees including Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson (L-R), Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director nominee Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary nominee James Mattis arrive for meetings at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 13, 2017.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

Mike Pompeo (2nd L), flanked by his wife Susan Pompeo (2nd R) and their son Nick Pompeo (R), signs his affidavit of appointment after being sworn in as director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (L) in Pence's ceremonial office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 23, 2017.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

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The start of Pompeo's hearing was disrupted by half a dozen protesters chanting "No Pompeo, no more war" before they were led out by security officials.

Pompeo appeared emotional at the start of his testimony as he talked about his family and offered personal details about himself, such as his love of meatballs.

Trump developed a warm relationship with Pompeo during White House meetings over the first year of his presidency and believes the former Republican congressman shares more of his world view than Tillerson, who at times disagreed with the president.

"Good luck to Mike Pompeo during his Confirmation Hearing today. He will be a great Secretary of State!" the Republican president said on Twitter.

Senators have said they want to make sure that Pompeo will be able to stand up to Trump, and they pressed him on the issue.

Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said it was fair to question whether his relationship with Trump was "rooted in a candid, healthy and give-and-take dynamic."

"I know that you have developed a close relationship with the president and I believe that relationship could well serve you if you're confirmed as secretary of state. However, many strong voices have been terminated or resigned," Corker said.

Among the first issues Pompeo was pressed on was whether or not Trump had talked to him about the Russia investigation looking into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Pompeo acknowledged he had been interviewed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, whose federal probe includes looking into whether there was collusion with Moscow by Trump campaign aides, but he declined to discuss details.

U.S. intelligence agencies concluded last year that Russia interfered in the campaign in hopes of tilting the election in Trump's favor. Moscow has denied the charge and Trump has denied any collusion by his campaign.

Trump has been accused by Democrats and some of his fellow Republicans of being too soft on Russian President Vladimir Putin, but Pompeo has signaled he will take a tough line on Russia.

Pompeo, who is seen as more of a hard-liner than Tillerson on issues including the nuclear agreement with Iran that he strongly opposed, said he wants to work with U.S. allies to fix the deal.

"I want to fix this deal. That's the objective," he said, when pressed on whether the United States should withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six major powers.

He denied that he had advocated for regime change in North Korea. (Reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Lesley Wroughton Editing by Frances Kerry)

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