Some Republicans have threatened to block confirmation votes for Chuck Hagel and John Brennan, President Barack Obama’s top national security nominees (Hagel for defense secretary, Brennan for CIA director).
Threatening “no confirmation without information,” South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said on the Sunday show “Face the Nation” that he wants to block voting on Hagel and Brennan. Graham wants to spread the message among his Senate colleagues until the White House provides more details about the confusion surrounding the deadly terrorist attack on a U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, last Sept. 11.
A vote for Hagel is planned on Tuesday.
“Here’s my question -- did the president ever pick up the phone and call the Libyan government and say, ‘Let through people out of the airport. They need to get to the annex to protect our people under siege?’ Did the president at any time during the eight-hour attack pick up the phone and call anybody in Libya to get help for these folks?” Graham said. “Secretary Clinton said she was screaming on the phone at Libyan officials. There’s no voice in the world like that of the president of the United States. And I do believe if he had picked up the phone and called the Libyan government, these folks could have gotten out of the airport to the annex and the last two guys may very well be alive.”
Graham said Republicans won’t stop pressing the issue until they get to the bottom of what he calls “a complete system failure.”
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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said Republicans may just filibuster Hagel's nomination, a move opposed by one of Hagel's harshest critics, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. If this should happen, Hagel will need 60 votes to overcome it.
Graham said he won’t filibuster, but wants to know exactly who changed the talking points given to Ambassador Susan Rice that led to false information coming out in the early moments after the attack. Those initial talking points suggested terrorists were behind the attack, but were then changed.
“I don’t think we should allow Brennan to go forward [to] the CIA directorship, Hagel to be confirmed for secretary of defense, until the White House gives us an accounting,” Graham said. “I’m going to ask my colleagues, just like they did with John Bolton. Joe Biden said no confirmation without information. No confirmation without information.”
This position by Graham and others could either turn into something real, or turn around to bite the GOP, which is facing an image crisis.
“This is not how either party prefers to deal with national security,” said Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University.
Zelizer believes Hagel will be confirmed, not only because he is well qualified for the position, but for the very fact that it will be difficult for Republicans to go against one of their own, especially one who is a veteran.
Hagel has aroused the ire of his own party over controversial past comments about Israel and defense. He has since explained that he is a supporter of Israel and committed to working with lawmakers. However, it seems that is not enough for some of the GOP.
“In this day of politics, rationality doesn’t always govern,” Zelizer said. “I think it looks bad. They haven’t raised anything that disqualifies him.”
Republicans may just be hurting themselves, further degrading a scarred image they have been trying to rebuild since the 2012 election. And in the White House's view, stalling Hagel’s nomination may make Republicans appear as obstructionists.
“It would confirm some of the negative opinions the public have of the Republican Party,” Zelizer said.