Chuck Hagel’s chances of winning Senate confirmation as President Barack Obama’s next defense secretary gained momentum as Republicans led by John McCain said they would oppose any attempt to block a vote on the nominee.
“I do not support a filibuster,” McCain of Arizona told reporters yesterday at the Capitol. “I don’t think it’s appropriate, and I would oppose such a move.”
Democrats control 55 of the 100 seats in the Senate, and Senator Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who heads the Senate Armed Services Committee, predicted last week that all of them will back Hagel. In addition, at least five Republicans have said they would help muster the supermajority of 60 votes that would be needed to overcome an attempt to block a vote on him.
While Hagel is a former Republican senator, he has drawn sharp criticism from McCain and other Republicans on a number of issues, from his past opposition to unilateral sanctions against Iran to his comments about the influence of what he once called “the Jewish lobby.”
In addition to McCain, Republican Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said yesterday they would oppose blocking a confirmation vote. Senators Thad Cochran of Mississippi and Mike Johanns of Nebraska have gone further, saying they would vote to confirm Hagel.
Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi has said he was unlikely to support a filibuster threat.
“On Hagel, I can’t imagine that he would be filibustered,” Senator Saxby Chambliss, a Georgia Republican, who said he is still undecided over how to vote on the nomination, told reporters yesterday.
Levin said last week that his panel may vote on Hagel’s nomination to succeed the retiring Defense Secretary Leon Panetta as soon as Feb. 7, sending it to the Senate floor.
Levin has scheduled a hearing that day with Panetta and General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to examine the deadly Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya. Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who serves on the panel, had demanded that Panetta testify before Hagel’s nomination moves forward.
At his confirmation hearing before the Armed Services panel on Jan. 31, Hagel said that he supports the current, multinational sanctions against Iran and that he should have referred to “the pro-Israel lobby” instead of the “Jewish lobby.”
McCain, a top Republican spokesman on defense policy, said he hasn’t yet decided how he would vote on Hagel, a longtime friend and fellow Vietnam War veteran.
McCain split with Hagel over the Nebraskan’s opposition to the troop surge during the Iraq War. When Hagel declined at his confirmation hearing to say whether the surge was a success, McCain responded, “History has already made a judgment on the surge, sir, and you were on the wrong side of it.”
Yesterday, McCain said he was “not happy” with Hagel’s “failure to answer a really simple question.”
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