- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 17, 2013

Two of the most outspoken critics of Chuck Hagel’s nomination as defense secretary indicated Sunday that the former senator from Nebraska likely will be confirmed when the Senate reconvenes next Monday.

“We will have a vote when we get back, and I’m confident that Sen. Hagel will probably have the votes necessary to be confirmed,” Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “I don’t believe he’s qualified, but I don’t believe we should hold up his confirmation any further.”

Mr. McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said the Senate should respect the president’s right to pick his own team.

Asked on “Fox News Sunday” whether he would continue to block Mr. Hagel’s nomination when the Senate returns, Mr. Graham said, “At the end of the day, this is the president’s decision, I give him great discretion.”

Still, like his colleague from Arizona, the South Carolina Republican doesn’t think Mr. Hagel is qualified, and he defended the refusal of Senate Republicans last week to allow an up-or-down vote on the nominee.

“I think we’re doing our job to scrutinize, I think, one of the most unqualified, radical choices for secretary of defense in a very long time,” he said.

Mr. Hagel’s critics contend he hasn’t been supportive enough of Israel and would be too soft when it comes to dealing with Iran.

Democrats fell short of the 60 votes necessary to end debate on Mr. Hagel’s nomination, with Republican senators saying they wanted more time to pore over information on Mr. Hagel and the White House response to the attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11.

Mr. McCain and Mr. Graham said they still have unanswered questions about the attacks that left four Americans dead, including the U.S. ambassador.

Mr. Graham took a shot at former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who deflected questions from the senators when she testified on Capitol Hill last month.

“When Secretary Clinton said she had a clear-eyed view of the threats we faced in Libya she was not clear eyed, she was blind and deaf,” Mr. Graham said.

Another GOP senator, Wyoming’s John Barrasso, said Mr. Hagel’s rough ride through the confirmation process has damaged his ability to lead the Pentagon.

“He’s going to be less effective because of the fact [that] the president nominated him,” Mr. Barrasso said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “I think it is going to impact him as he tries to limp across the finish line to get confirmed.”

But the White House also weighed in Sunday on behalf of the president’s pick.

The new White House chief of staff, Denis McDonough, said there’s a “grave concern” about delays in confirming Mr. Hagel and the president’s nominee for head of the CIA, John O. Brennan, the president’s top counterterrorism adviser.

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