The vote to confirm former Sen. Chuck Hagel as the U.S. secretary of defense has been delayed by Senate Republicans, but it is likely to be held at last this week.
Hagel, 66, a Republican who served as U.S. senator for Nebraska from 1997 to 2009, is a decorated Vietnam War veteran who currently serves as an intelligence adviser for the White House. He was nominated by President Barack Obama for defense secretary on Jan. 7, and his road to confirmation has been a particularly polarizing one.
Senate Republicans have accused Hagel of being too soft on Iran and insufficiently committed to the American alliance with Israel. They also take umbrage at Hagel’s support for cutting back Pentagon spending, his opposition to the war in Iraq despite initially voting to authorize it, and his endorsement of Obama over Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in the 2008 presidential election.
But during a Sunday morning appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union,” McCain said Hagel, his fellow Vietnam vet and onetime ally, deserved a vote.
“I think it will happen, barring some additional revelation concerning his comments on Israel and all those other really unfortunate things he’s said in the past,” he said.
Hagel’s nomination is supported by Senate Democrats, who hold 55 of the 100 seats in the upper chamber -- enough to give Hagel the simple majority he needs to replace Leon Panetta as secretary of defense. Hagel also has the support of at least three Republicans: Richard Shelby of Alabama, Thad Cochran of Mississippi and Mike Johanns of Nebraska.
But Republicans have delayed the confirmation with procedural devices, using an unprecedented filibuster on Feb. 14 to block an up-or-down vote and arguing that more time was necessary to clear up lingering concerns about Hagel’s qualifications and associations.
During a Google+ On-Air Hangout that very same day, Obama criticized Republicans’ reliance on the filibuster to delay the confirmation.
“What seems to be happening — and this has been growing over time — is that the Republican minority in the Senate seems to think that the rule now is that you have to have 60 votes for everything. Well, that’s not the rule. The rule is that you’re supposed to have a majority of the hundred senators vote on most bills,” Obama said.
“My expectation and hope is that Chuck Hagel, who richly deserves to get a vote on the floor of the Senate, will be confirmed as our defense secretary,” he added.
The polarization surrounding Hagel’s nomination was made clear during his Jan. 31 confirmation hearing. Faced with aggressive lines of questioning from Republicans including McCain, Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., Hagel followed his White House handlers and demurred on questions about some of his controversial statements of years past. Critics called his answers noncommittal and even inconsistent.
“Did [Hagel] have the best day that day? Of course not,” Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said during a Sunday appearance on Fox News. “But having said that, he’s qualified. I think it’s despicable the way his character has been impugned by other people.”
Some conservatives remain staunchly opposed to Hagel’s confirmation, including the 15 Republican senators who signed a Feb. 21 letter to Obama urging the withdrawal of his nomination.
“It would be unprecedented for a secretary of defense to take office without the broad base of bipartisan support and confidence needed to serve effectively in this critical position,” said the letter.
But McCain acknowledged on Sunday that given Democrats’ control of the Senate, further delays would amount to a waste of time.
“I do believe that elections have consequences, unfortunately,” McCain said. “And the president of the United States was re-elected.”
An up-or-down vote in the Senate -- and with it, Hagel’s official confirmation -- is expected by Wednesday.