U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham said he will attempt to block the nominations of Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense and John Brennan to head the Central Intelligence Agency until he gets answers about what President Barack Obama did personally at the time of the deadly attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya.
The South Carolina Republican, speaking yesterday on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” said a six-person security team that had been dispatched from Tripoli was held up at the airport during the eight-hour attack.
“Did the president ever pick up the phone and call the Libyan government and say ‘let those people out of the airport?’” Graham said.
There will be “no confirmation without information,” Graham said. “This is complete system failure and I’m going to get to the bottom of it.”
Separately, Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican, said yesterday that he’s leaning against voting to confirm Hagel, citing the former Nebraska senator’s opposition to then-President George W. Bush’s plan to send additional troops to Iraq.
Though Graham vowed to oppose the nominations, he said he wouldn’t use a procedural tactic known as a filibuster, the main vehicle for blocking Senate action. “I’m not filibustering,” Graham said.
Obama’s nomination of Hagel, a Republican, to succeed the retiring Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has been criticized by Republicans on matters such as his past opposition to unilateral sanctions against Iran and his comments about the influence of what he once called “the Jewish lobby.”
Democrats control 55 of the 100 seats in the Senate, and Michigan Senator Carl Levin, a Democrat who heads the Senate Armed Services Committee, predicted last week that all of them will back Hagel once the nomination gets to the Senate floor. 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.
Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat, downplayed the risk of any attempt to block Hagel’s nomination.
“Republican senators have told me privately they are not going to initiate the first filibuster in history” against a prospective secretary of defense, Durbin said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed, a Democrat, said on CBS that Graham’s threat is “not appropriate.” It’s “an overreaction that is not going to serve the best interests going forward of the national security of the United States,” said Reed.
Commenting yesterday on the “Fox News Sunday” program, McCain said that Hagel was wrong to oppose the so-called surge in Iraq and that he knows he was wrong yet refused to say so under questioning at a Senate hearing. When asked if it was fair to say that he was leaning against voting to confirm Hagel, McCain agreed.
On Feb. 9, former Vice President Dick Cheney described Obama’s picks for secretary of state, director of the CIA and secretary of defense as “second-rate people.” John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee and former Massachusetts senator, has already been confirmed as secretary of state.
Asked on CBS about the comments, Representative Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican who is chairman of the House Permanent Select Intelligence Committee, declined to share Cheney’s assessment. “It may be a little beyond where I’m going,” he said.