Democrats on Monday said they will press ahead with Chuck Hagel’s nomination to be the next secretary of defense, daring Republicans to try to derail his nomination over charges that neither he nor the Obama administration have disclosed enough information.
The Armed Services Committee will vote Tuesday, and Majority Leader Harry Reid said he will schedule a full Senate vote for later this week so the chamber acts before it heads home for a weeklong vacation. Mr. Reid predicted Mr. Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska whom President Obama has tapped to be the top civilian at the Pentagon, will survive GOP efforts to block him.
“There’s never in the history of the country ever been a filibuster on a defense secretary nominee, and I’m certain there won’t be on this one,” he said.
The GOP cleared the way for Tuesday’s committee vote after deciding against walking out of the committee meeting.
Sen. John McCain, a senior Republican on the panel, said that while he is not a fan of Mr. Hagel‘s, the committee has given him a fair hearing and has properly vetted his nomination, so there’s no reason to block it from voting.
“I believe that he has fulfilled the rigorous requirements that the committee demands of every presidential nominee to be secretary of defense,” the Arizona Republican said. “As a result, I believe it is appropriate for the Armed Services Committee to vote on Sen. Hagel’s nomination and determine whether to move this nomination to the Senate floor.”
Some Republicans oppose Mr. Hagel because of his past statements on Iran and Israel, which he has since tried to explain or apologize for. And they are seeking more records of Mr. Hagel’s clients in the four years since he left the Senate.
Others — particularly, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina — say they want more information from the administration about the chain of events involved in last year’s attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, and are prepared to slow-walk both Mr. Hagel and the nomination of John O. Brennan to be director of the CIA.
“I don’t think we should allow Brennan to go forward for the CIA directorship, Hagel to be confirmed for secretary of defense until the White House gives us an accounting,” Mr. Graham said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” program this weekend.
The White House fired back on Monday.
“We have answered these questions,” said White House press secretary Jay Carney. “The president found out about the attack in Benghazi in a meeting with his secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs from his national security adviser. He immediately ordered those two leaders to take every action necessary to try to position forces in a way that could assist in Benghazi and also potentially take action, if necessary, elsewhere, because of all that was unfolding around the region.”
He added that Mr. Obama was “regularly updated and kept apprised of events in Benghazi and in the region throughout that evening and into the night.”
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta told lawmakers last week that he informed Mr. Obama of the attack in Libya at a routine afternoon meeting, but neither he nor the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff talked with Mr. Obama for the rest of the evening, as the two-prong attack unfolded.
Mr. Hagel, who served in the Vietnam War, is seeking to become the first former enlisted man to reach the secretary’s post. Mr. Obama tapped Mr. Hagel to be an independent voice at the Pentagon — though in his confirmation hearing, he said he found no areas of disagreement with the administration’s policies.