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Senate Republicans Play Coy on Hagel Filibuster or ‘Hold’

Feb. 6, 2013 - 03:55PM   |  
By JOHN T. BENNETT   |   Comments
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U.S. Senate Republicans have yet to rule out a nomination-killing filibuster of Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s pick to be defense secretary, but the controversial move appears less and less likely.

“Don’t know yet,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told Defense News when asked whether Republicans will opt for such a move on the Senate floor.

But in a bit of a shift, Graham clarified his remarks seconds later as an elevator door closed between him and several reporters: “Don’t think we should filibuster unless [it’s] an extraordinary circumstance.”

Asked by another reporter whether he would use a Senate procedural tactic known as a “hold” to freeze the nomination if it is approved by the Armed Services Committee, Graham said: “Want to get the information.”

Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) Ranking Member James Inhofe, R-Okla., when asked by Defense News whether he would place a hold on Hagel’s nomination should it be approved by the panel, played coy.

“That could happen,” Inhofe said with a smile. “I’m not sure who would be doing it.”

Graham, who has at least once threatened to filibuster Hagel’s nomination, was referring to information about speeches Hagel gave prior to becoming the nominee and data about other matters requested at his Jan. 31 SASC confirmation hearing.

Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., told reporters following that eight-hour marathon hearing that he would like the panel to vote on the nomination at the onset of a Feb. 7 hearing. But, Levin said last week, that could only happen if Hagel and his aides have provided the information sought by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and other Republican members.

In a statement released late in the afternoon of Feb. 6, Levin said the panel would not vote the next day.

“I had hoped to hold a vote on the nomination this week, but the committee’s review of the nomination is not yet complete,” Levin said. “I intend to schedule a vote on the nomination as soon as possible.”

An email to a Cruz spokeswoman inquiring about whether Hagel had satisfied Cruz’s demand had not been returned at the time of this posting.

“There are still legitimate questions that have to be answered,” McCain said.

One Feb. 5 media report indicated McCain, whose 2000 presidential campaign Hagel co-chaired, had decided to vote for Hagel. But McCain was succinct when asked by Defense News if he had indeed decided to vote “yay” on his longtime close friend: “No. Not yet. I want to see all the information first.”

Graham’s comments came after he, McCain, Inhofe, Cruz and other Republican SASC members hammered Hagel last week during his day-long confirmation hearing. On Feb. 5, Graham issued a veiled threat, urging the White House to withdraw the nomination.

“Chuck Hagel is a good man, but these are dangerous times,” Graham said in a statement. “What kind of signal are we sending to the Iranians when our nominee for secretary of defense seems clueless about what our policy is? I hope the Obama administration will reconsider his nomination.”

GOP lawmakers, pro-Israel groups and others are concerned that Hagel is too anti-Israel, too unwilling to use U.S. military and economic force against Iran, too willing to trim America’s nuclear arms arsenal, and too reluctant to use the military around the globe.

Hagel endured relentless GOP questioning last week during an eight-hour confirmation hearing. During the session, Republican SASC members attacked Hagel for past statements and views on confronting Iran, the U.S.-Israeli alliance and the proper size of the American nuclear arsenal.

Even some Hagel backers have acknowledged his performance was lackluster and that he did not clearly nor forcefully respond to the GOP barrage.

Republican and Democratic sources are still predicting Hagel will eventually be confirmed by the full Senate.

Senate Democratic leaders and the White House need to keep all 55 of the upper chamber’s Democrats on board, and pick up five GOP senators to reach the 60 “yay” votes needed to turn off a filibuster. Two Republicans have said they will vote for Hagel to become defense secretary. That means he needs three more to avoid a filibuster.

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