WASHINGTON — The No. 2 U.S. Senate Republican is pressing the White House to withdraw the controversial nomination of Chuck Hagel to be defense secretary, delivering a vote of no confidence directly to President Barack Obama.
Senate Republicans for weeks have been seeking a way to derail the former Nebraska GOP senator’s nomination, raising concerns about his views on the U.S.-Israel alliance, Iran’s nuclear arms ambitions, defense spending, use of American military power, as well as vague worries about foreign funds he might have accepted.
They successfully blocked a Democratic attempt last Thursday to end a Senate floor filibuster of the nomination. At that time, Republicans vowed to stand aside following this week’s recess and allow the Democratic majority to confirm Hagel — but not before trying a few more tactics, it turns out.
“While we respect Sen. Hagel’s honorable military service, in the interest of national security, we respectfully request that you withdraw his nomination,” Senate Republican Whip Sen. John Cornyn of Texas wrote in a letter sent Thursday to Obama.
“It would be unprecedented for a secretary of defense to take office without the broad base of bipartisan support and confidence needed to serve effectively in this critical position,” states the letter. A total of 15 Republican senators signed the letter, including Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who has led the anti-Hagel charge.
The 15 signatories are short of the 60 votes the Republicans would need to keep alive the filibuster, as well as the 51 votes they would need to defeat the nomination in an up-or-down vote.
“Over the last half century, no secretary of defense has been confirmed and taken office with more than three senators voting against him. Further, in the history of this position, none has ever been confirmed with more than 11 opposing votes,” Cornyn and the GOP senators wrote. “The occupant of this critical office should be someone whose candidacy is neither controversial nor divisive.”
In the letter, the senators tell Obama they believe outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s tenure has been “a huge success” and note he was unanimously confirmed by the upper chamber.
“[Panetta’s] Pentagon tenure has been a huge success, due in part to the high degree of trust and confidence that senators on both sides of the aisle have placed in him,” states the letter. “The next secretary of defense should have a similar level of broad-based bipartisan support and confidence in order to succeed at a time when the Department of Defense faces monumental challenges.”
In the letter, meant as much for the senators’ constituents and the GOP base as Obama, they state that during his Jan. 31 confirmation hearing, Hagel “more than once … proclaimed the legitimacy of the current regime in Tehran.” Again pointing to his confirmation-hearing comments, the lawmakers tell Obama the nominee “displayed a seeming ambivalence about whether containment or prevention is the best approach, which gives us great concern.”
Cornyn and the others conclude the letter by telling Obama they have determined Hagel is “not the right candidate to hold the office of secretary of defense.”