February 12, 2013

Senate panel approves Hagel for Pentagon chief

The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., insisted that the former GOP senator was out of the mainstream. "He's in a league of his own," Graham said.

McCain, who was a close friend of Hagel's but split over the Iraq war and politics, said Tuesday he would vote against confirmation. However, late Monday McCain met privately with several committee Republicans and urged them not to filibuster the nomination, pointing out that the roles could be reversed someday with a Republican president and GOP-controlled Senate.

"I'm encouraging my colleagues if they want to vote against Sen. Hagel that's one thing, and that's a principled stand," McCain told a group of reporters. "We do not want to filibuster. We have not filibustered a Cabinet appointee in the past and I believe that we should move forward with his nomination, bring it to the floor and vote up or down."

All 55 Democrats are expected to back Hagel, and two Republicans — Sens. Thad Cochran of Mississippi and Mike Johanns of Nebraska — have said they will vote for the nominee. At least five Republicans have said they oppose a filibuster despite their reservations or opposition toward the nominee.

More than a dozen Republicans have said they will oppose their former colleague, and several others have indicated they are likely to vote no. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., a member of the Armed Services Committee, said Tuesday she would vote against the nominee, citing his performance at his confirmation hearing.

Hagel seemed ill-prepared under withering cross-examination from committee Republicans in nearly eight hours of testimony on Jan. 31. He was repeatedly pressed about past statements and votes on Israel, Iran and nuclear weapons, with GOP lawmakers suggesting he wasn't sufficiently supportive of Israel or anti-Iran.

In the memo circulated Tuesday, Republicans focused on the 2005 fight over President George W. Bush's nomination of John Bolton to be ambassador to the United Nations, and Democrats who tried to stop the nomination. The position is not Cabinet-level, however.

Faced with a Democratic filibuster, Bush circumvented the Senate and made Bolton a recess appointment.

Graham has signaled that he would block the nominations of Hagel and CIA Director-designate John Brennan if he doesn't get more answers about the deadly raid on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, in September.

"I'm insisting that the president answer ... what he did that night. That's all. It would take five minutes to answer my question," Graham told reporters. "It's the only leverage I have."

The White House pushed back Monday, with spokesman Jay Carney insisting the administration had answered lingering questions about Libya and the president's actions on that fateful day.

"What is unfortunate here is the continuing attempt to politicize an issue, in this case through nominees that themselves had nothing to do with Benghazi, and to do so in a way that only does harm to our national security interests," Carney said. "Sen. Hagel, Mr. Brennan, they need to be confirmed."

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