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Current Events & Hot Topics Current Events & Hot Topics

Bitterly Divided Senate Panel Backs Hagel for Defense

Posted by on Feb. 14, 2013 at 12:54 PM
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WASHINGTON - After a combative two-hour debate that tested the bounds of Senate collegiality, the Armed Services Committee on Tuesday approved the nomination of former Senator Chuck Hagel as defense secretary on a sharply partisan vote.

Doug Mills/The New York Times

Senators Lindsey Graham, right, and Carl Levin, members of the Armed Services Committee.

The 14-to-11 vote to send the nomination to the Senate floor with a favorable recommendation was the latest step in a process that has deepened festering hostilities between Congressional Republicans and the White House and has exposed stark disagreements over wartime foreign policy.

After the vote, Republicans threatened to try to filibuster the nomination of Mr. Hagel, a decorated Vietnam War veteran whom some had worked with as a member of their own party, while Democrats were promising to force a vote of the full Senate as early as Wednesday night.

At times, the meeting slipped into an unusually accusatory and bitter back-and-forth, with Republicans like Ted Cruz, a freshman senator from Texas, going as far as to suggest that Mr. Hagel had accepted money from nations that oppose American interests.

Saying that he had serious doubts about the source of payments that Mr. Hagel had accepted for speaking engagements, Mr. Cruz declared, "It is at a minimum relevant to know if that $200,000 that he deposited in his bank account came directly from Saudi Arabia, came directly from North Korea."

Senator Bill Nelson of Florida and other Democrats countered by saying that Republicans had unfairly questioned the integrity of both Mr. Hagel, a two-time Purple Heart recipient, and had undermined the work of the normally bipartisan committee itself.

"Senator Cruz has gone over the line," Mr. Nelson said. "He basically has impugned the patriotism of the nominee."

Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, who is opposing his former colleague, also bristled at the attacks on Mr. Hagel, saying that "no one on this committee should at any time impugn his character or his integrity."

Tension reached its height when Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the senior Republican on the committee, said that those who had suggested that Mr. Hagel was "cozy" with terrorist states had a basis for their claims because Iran had expressed support for his nomination.

"He's endorsed by them," Mr. Inhofe said. "You can't get any cozier than that."

Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri, gasped in disgust. "Senator Inhofe, be careful," she later warned him. "What if some horrible organization said tomorrow that you were the best guy that they knew?"

Then, looking directly at Mr. Cruz, she insisted that the president should be free to choose his own cabinet.

"As much as some people in this room don't like it," she said, "he was elected president of the United States by the American people. And he has selected an honorable veteran, a Republican who has served our country in various capacities, including in this body."

Blocking such a high-level presidential appointee is a rare move. Since 1917, when the Senate's modern filibuster rules were created, a cabinet-level nominee has faced a supermajority barrier to confirmation only twice: Ronald Reagan's nominee for commerce secretary in 1987, C. William Verity Jr., and George W. Bush's nominee for interior secretary in 2006, Dirk Kempthorne.

Mr. Inhofe has vowed to use procedural tactics to slow the Senate's consideration of Mr. Hagel, a step that would require 60 votes for confirmation instead of the usual simple majority of 51.

The tactic could prove mainly symbolic, however, because at least 60 senators, including some of those who voted against him on Tuesday, have indicated that they will allow his nomination to come to the Senate floor.

Even as Mr. Inhofe threatened to draw the process out, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, was preparing to hold a vote as early as Wednesday night. Still, Senate Democrats said that given the late timing of the committee vote, they did not expect Mr. Hagel's nomination to reach the Senate floor until Thursday morning

Mr. Hagel has faced opposition from Republicans and Democrats alike, drawing criticism over past remarks that were seen as anti-Jewish, anti-gay or insufficiently supportive of American foreign policy.

And a confirmation hearing performance that members of both parties said was uneven and underwhelming - at one point he misrepresented the Obama administration's policy toward Iran as "containment" but later corrected himself to say it was preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons - seemed to do him little good.

Mr. McCain said bluntly, "His performance before this committee was the worst that I have seen of any nominee for office."

Criticism of Mr. Hagel from other quarters in the Senate has died down. Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, who initially expressed reservations, announced last month that he was reassured that Mr. Hagel did indeed support Israel despite derisive comments that the nominee once made about the "Jewish lobby."

And Mr. McCain and other swing-vote Republicans like Senator Susan Collins of Maine came out against a filibuster last week.

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of the Republicans who objected the most vociferiously to Mr. Hagel's nomination, told the committee on Tuesday that the nominee's previous statements and positions on national security issues like sanctions on Iran, which he opposed, should disqualify him from the job.

"He's in a league of his own, guys," an animated Mr. Graham said. "I say dumb things every day. But it's a series of things, a series of votes, an edge about him that makes many of us unnerved about his selection when the world is on fire."

The meeting served as the latest example of the deep partisan rift that has left the Senate dysfunctional and, at times, inoperative in carrying out some of its most basic functions like voting on presidential nominees. In the case of Mr. Hagel, the clash has drawn greater notice because senators and former senators generally receive a warm reception before the Senate.

"I'm often asked what's happened to the committee," Mr. Graham said. "Nothing. We just disagree on occasion."

As he concluded the meeting, Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan and the chairman of the committee, remarked, "And we look forward to another wonderful year together."

The room rumbled with laughter.

by on Feb. 14, 2013 at 12:54 PM
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mikiemom
by Ruby Member on Feb. 14, 2013 at 2:53 PM

The Senator from Okalahoma accusing Hagel of being comfy with the Iranians is disgusting. The Teaparty really needs to be disbanded they are an out of control hate group and should be identified as such.

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