Dems joust with Pompeo at hearing, the 1st since impeachment

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo testifies during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Feb. 28, 2020, about the Trump administration's policies on Iran, Iraq and the use of force. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended the Trump administration's response to the spreading coronavirus but also faced contentious questions Friday from Democrats about the basis for an airstrike that killed Iran's most powerful general and whether the attack had put American security at risk.

Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee repeatedly expressed frustration that the panel was afforded only two hours to question Pompeo, who until Friday had gone months without testifying publicly on Capitol Hill. He balked last fall at complying with a subpoena tied to the House impeachment inquiry into the administration's interactions with Ukraine.

“Mr. Secretary, it shouldn't have been so difficult to get you here, and your appearance here today is far too short," Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, the committee's chairman, said at the outset of the hearing. He later called it an “embarrassment" that the hearing was so short.

Minutes later, Rep. Gregory Meeks, a New York Democrat, recalled Pompeo's “thundering" while in Congress about the need for testimony from one of his Democratic predecessors, Hillary Clinton, about the 2012 attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi.

“'But with you, sir, we had to move heaven and earth to get you here today for just two hours,” Meeks said. “To me that shows disregard for the oversight responsibilities of the United States Congress.”

Another Democrat, Rep. Ted Lieu of California, complained that Pompeo “could only give two hours" to the committee and was instead setting aside time to speak in Maryland at the Conservative Political Action Conference. President Donald Trump also announced he was dispatching Pompeo to witness the signing of an agreement with the Afghan Taliban aimed at beginning a drawdown of thousands of U.S. troops.

Pompeo, a close ally of Trump, noted that he had briefed Congress more than 70 times on Iran and sought to keep his testimony focused on that subject — the stated focus of the hearing.

He repeatedly defended the administration's January strike against Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran's elite Quds force, saying he was “100%" confident that the military commander had plans to kill more Americans and was “actively plotting" to do so.