Former Sen. Chuck Hagel has lined up the necessary votes in the Senate to be confirmed next week as Secretary of Defense — as a senior Republican lawmaker said on Thursday that he would support him and 15 GOP senators called on President Barack Obama to withdraw his name.
“He’s probably as good as we're going to get,” five-term Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama told The Decatur Daily Herald about Hagel.
Unless any new, damaging information on Hagel emerges before an expected Senate vote on Tuesday, Hagel has Shelby's vote, spokesman Jonathan Graffeo told the Associated Press.
Shelby is the third Republican to announce his support for Hagel, joining Sens. Thad Cochran of Mississippi and Mike Johanns of Nebraska.
If confirmed, Hagel, the former two-term Nebraska senator, would succeed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. Panetta is returning to California after four years as CIA director and then as head of the Pentagon.
Last week, Senate Republicans filibustered a vote on Hagel’s nomination last week, forcing Democrats to take up the issue after senators return from recess next week.
Meanwhile, the 15 GOP senators called on Obama to withdraw Hagel’s nomination, saying it would be “unprecedented,” since so many Republicans opposed it. The letter came after Shelby’s announcement.
“Over the last half-century, no secretary of defense has been confirmed and taken office with more than three senators voting against him,” the senators wrote in a letter that was quoted by The New York Times. “The occupant of this critical office should be someone whose candidacy is neither controversial or divisive.”
Joining Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn of Texas in signing the letter were Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott of South Carolina; Roger Wicker of Mississippi; David Vitter of Louisiana; Ted Cruz of Texas; Mike Lee of Utah; Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania; Marco Rubio of Florida; Dan Coats of Indiana; Ron Johnson of Wisconsin; James E. Risch of Idaho; John Barrasso of Wyoming; and Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.
“Senator Hagel’s performance at his confirmation hearing was deeply concerning, leading to serious doubts about his basic competence to meet the substantial demands of the office,” they said in the letter.
But Sen. John McCain of Arizona did not sign the letter. While he opposes Hagel’s nomination — calling him unqualified for the position — the former GOP presidential candidate has said he would allow a final vote on the nomination.
Graham also has said he would back a vote on Hagel’s nomination.
White House spokesman Jay Carney on Thursday complained that the letter demonstrated that Republicans had put politics ahead of national security. He pointed out that the administration wants Hagel to be part of decisions on the size of the U.S. force in Afghanistan as American and coalition forces wind down combat operations.
“This waste of time is not just meaningless political posturing because we firmly believe that Sen. Hagel will be confirmed. The waste of time is of consequence,” Carney said, the Associated Press reports.
The Senate also is holding up the nomination of John Brennan to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency, as both Republicans and Democrats seek more information about the U.S. policy on the use of drones.
Hagel and Brennan would join Secretary of State John Kerry in Obama's new national security team.
Hagel is expected to get all 55 Democratic votes and the backing of the three Republicans. Two other GOP members, Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, voted last week to allow the nomination to proceed.
They are expected to do the same next week, giving Hagel the requisite 60 votes out of 100 necessary to end a filibuster, the Associated Press reports.
A vote on confirmation, with only a majority necessary, could occur as early as Wednesday, according to the Associated Press.
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