Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin said he will hold a vote in the panel tomorrow on Chuck Hagel’s nomination for defense secretary, as Democrats seek to overcome Republican opposition and complete action on the confirmation as soon as this week.
“It is the chairman’s intention to vote on the nomination after the members have an opportunity for discussion,” Levin, a Michigan Democrat, said today in a statement.
The Obama administration faces opposition from most Senate Republicans as it seeks to install Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska, to replace the retiring Leon Panetta as the Pentagon’s top official.
Levin has predicted all 55 senators who vote with Democrats will back Hagel on the Senate floor, and at least five Republicans have indicated they would provide the additional votes needed to block a threatened filibuster.
Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and a member of the Armed Services panel, said yesterday that he may place a hold on the nomination until he gets answers about what President Barack Obama did personally to encourage military action at the time of the deadly attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya.
One or more senators can impose such a hold, usually as a way to extract information or other concessions from a president. While holds are traditionally honored, other senators usually pressure the lawmakers who are resisting action to drop their objections.
Action by the Armed Services panel could lead to a vote by the full Senate later this week, according to a Senate Democratic leadership aide who asked not to be identified discussing the evolving plans. The Senate is in recess next week, and Democratic leaders hope opponents will drop their objections to a vote, the aide said.
Obama’s nomination of Hagel 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.”
Graham said he will attempt to stop action on the nominations of Hagel and of John Brennan to head the Central Intelligence Agency until he gets answers about Obama’s actions during the Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. Graham said yesterday on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” that a six-member 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.”
White House press secretary Jay Carney said today the administration ’’firmly’’ believes Hagel will be confirmed by the Senate. The administration has answered questions raised yesterday by Graham, he said. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Panetta appeared before congressional panels to answer questions about the attacks in Libya and “now they’re moving the goal posts again.”
Even as Graham vowed to stall action on the nominations, he said he wouldn’t use the threat of a filibuster, the main procedural vehicle for blocking Senate action, which requires 60 votes to defeat. “I’m not filibustering,” Graham said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said today that there’s never been a filibuster of a nominee for defense secretary, “and I’m confident there won’t be on this one.”
Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said he will bring Hagel’s nomination to the floor as soon as possible after Levin’s committee acts on it. He said Brennan’s nomination would be taken up after the Senate’s break.
So far, no Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee have said they would support Hagel. Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the panel’s top Republican, said Sunday on Fox News that he wants Senate leaders in both parties to require a supermajority in the 100-member chamber.
“I want a 60-vote margin, and you don’t have to filibuster to get that,” Inhofe, who has said he will vote against Hagel, said in an interview cited by the Hill newspaper.
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.”