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Ratcliffe testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee in May. Photo: Andrew Harnik/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

The Senate confirmed Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) as the director of national intelligence in a 49-44 party-line vote on Thursday.

Why it matters: Ratcliffe, a vocal ally of President Trump, now heads an intelligence community that has faced consistent criticism from the president and is in the midst of political firestorms surrounding the prosecution of Michael Flynn and the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

  • Ratcliffe will also be able to decide what documents are publicly released in expanding congressional investigations into Obama administration officials, especially Joe Biden, Trump's presumptive 2020 opponent.
  • Worth noting: Ratcliffe's predecessor, Dan Coats, was confirmed in 2017 with a 85-12 vote.

The backdrop: Trump previously floated nominating Ratcliffe for the position last year but backed off after senior congressional Republicans deemed him "unqualified" for the job due to his lack of intelligence experience.

  • He replaces acting DNI Richard Grenell, who is concurrently the U.S. ambassador to Germany and may go on to chair the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board.
  • Ratcliffe said during his confirmation hearing that "keeping politics out of the intelligence community is one of my priorities," adding that he does not believe the intelligence agencies have "run amok" as Trump and his allies have claimed.
  • However, Democrats fear he will politicize a position that oversees the entire intelligence community.

What they're saying: "In a time when the threats to our nation are many and varied, it is critical to have a Senate-confirmed DNI ensuring the wide array of intelligence agencies are sharing information across lines, coordinating capabilities, and working in the furtherance of our nation’s security using 21st century, cutting edge capabilities," said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the acting chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

  • "Director Ratcliffe understands this responsibility, and I am confident that he will fulfill all of the roles assigned to the DNI with integrity.”

Go deeper: More highlights from John Ratcliffe's DNI confirmation hearing

Go deeper

Aug 27, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Trump's former spy chief: Being called a "nationalist" is not an insult

Former acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell praised President Trump in his Republican National Convention speech for being a Washington "outsider" and scoffed at the "DC crowd" for thinking that being called a "nationalist" is an insult.

The big picture: Grenell drew criticism from Democrats during his short stint as America's top intelligence official for his lack of experience and his alleged efforts to undermine the Russia investigation by selectively declassifying documents. He attacked the "Russia collusion" narrative in his RNC speech as "bogus," saying that the alleged abuses he saw "made me sick to my stomach."

The missed cyber opportunity in the Senate Intel report on Russia

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Senate Intelligence Committee detailed shocking new revelations about the 2016 Trump campaign's dealings with Russia in the landmark final volume of its report on the matter, but it missed an opportunity to recommend cybersecurity fixes for today’s campaigns and parties — perhaps by design.

Why it matters: The DNC and RNC could be considered a type of “critical infrastructure,” because without them and the presidential and congressional fundraising they facilitate, U.S. politics as we know it wouldn’t exist. But because they fall outside the government’s protective cybersecurity remit, they are also uniquely vulnerable to outside threats.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
30 mins ago - Health

Schools face an uphill battle to reopen during the pandemic

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

President Biden's plan to accelerate the reopening of K-8 schools faces major challenges from a still out-of-control pandemic and more contagious coronavirus variants.

Why it matters: The longer American kids miss in-person schooling, the further they fall behind. But the uncertain state of the science on the role young children play in the pandemic continues to complicate efforts to reopen schools.