Senate Republicans Succeed in Blocking Vote on Hagel Nomination
Senate Republicans succeeded today in blocking Chuck Hagel's nomination to become Secretary of Defense (SecDef) from proceeding to a vote by the full Senate. Sixty votes were needed to clear a procedural hurdle and the vote was 58-40.
Four Republicans (Collins, Cochran, Murkowski and Johanns) voted with all 53 Democrats and two Independents to end debate and move forward with the vote. That was 59 votes, one shy of what was needed. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid switched his vote from yes to no when it was clear he could not win because that step allows him to bring the nomination up again at a later time. One Republican (Hatch) abstained and one (Vitter) was absent.
The nomination cleared the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) on Tuesday on a party-line vote following rancorous debate. Many Senate Republicans oppose Hagel, even though he was a Republican Senator himself, for a variety of reasons including his positions on Israel and Iran. They are creating one roadblock after another. A group of about two dozen Republicans were demanding additional financial disclosures. More recently some have been demanding more information from President Obama about what he was doing the day of the attack in Benghazi, Libya that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
Hagel supporters point out that Hagel had nothing to do with the Benghazi situation. Nevertheless, the White House counsel sent a letter to three key Republican Senators (McCain, Graham and Ayotte) today explaining that the President did not speak with Libyan leaders that day. The letter did not mollify them, apparently, since they blocked Hagel's nomination in any case.
The Senate calendar says that the Senate is scheduled to be in session tomorrow, then will recess for the President's Day holiday for all of next week. The White House had wanted Hagel to be confirmed prior to NATO meetings next week, but Reid reportedly had said that another vote will wait until the Senate returns from recess.
Leon Panetta remains as SecDef, though he gave his retirement speech last week and left for home in California earlier today. He has made clear his desire to return to his walnut farm and relinquish his position.
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