In this May 5, 2020, photo, Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee during his nomination hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. President Donald Trump’s pick to be the nation’s top intelligence official, Ratcliffe, is adamant that if confirmed he will not allow politics to color information he takes to the president. Credit: Andrew Harnik | AP

WASHINGTON — The Senate intelligence panel approved the nomination of Texas Rep. John Ratcliffe to be director of national intelligence on Thursday, sending the nomination to the Senate floor for confirmation.

The nomination was approved 8-7 in a closed committee hearing, with senators voting along party lines, according to a committee aide. Maine’s senators split in the party-line vote, with Susan Collins joining fellow Republicans and independent Angus King voting with the Democrats with whom he caucuses.

Republicans have praised Ratcliffe, who has been an ardent defender of President Donald Trump. Democrats have been skeptical that he would serve with the independence they say is crucial for the job. Ratcliffe sought to shed a reputation as a Trump loyalist at his confirmation hearing this month, insisting he would lead intelligence agencies without partisan influence.

Ratcliffe would replace Dan Coats, a former GOP senator who was popular in Congress but who clashed with Trump in his two years in the job. Richard Grenell, who is close to Trump, is now the acting director.

Trump, who has always viewed the intelligence community with skepticism, has nominated Ratcliffe twice. Ratcliffe was first picked for the post last summer, shortly after Coats’ resignation, but then withdrew after some Senate Republicans questioned his experience.

GOP senators warmed to Ratcliffe after Trump unexpectedly nominated him again in February. The months in between were a tumultuous time in the intelligence community, as Trump ousted and fired multiple officials, and senators were eager for a permanent replacement for Coats.

The hearing was the first for the panel’s new chairman, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, tapped Rubio to temporarily lead the committee after Sen. Richard Burr, R-North Carolina, stepped aside amid an FBI inquiry of recent stock sales.

BDN writer Michael Shepherd contributed to this report.