NEW YORK — The nomination of Chuck Hagel for secretary of defense passed its first major hurdle in the Senate Tuesday as the Senate Armed Services Committee voted 14 to 11 to send his nomination to the Senate floor.
Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said he will try to bring the nomination to a vote in the Senate by Thursday, suggesting Hagel could be American’s 24th secretary of defense by Friday.
The committee’s deliberations Tuesday saw a rehashing of the arguments on both sides of the aisle, with comments reflecting the final party-line vote.
“His foreign policy views put him near the ‘fringe’ of the Senate,” said Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), quoting a December 18 Washington Post editorial. He accused Hagel, among other things, of expressing “the greatest degree of antagonism toward Israel of any member of this body,” along with skepticism about Iran sanctions and any firm response to terror groups such as Hezbollah.
Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) called for senators to vote based on Hagel’s professional qualifications, not his past policy views or those of President Obama.
“Our vote on Senator Hagel’s nomination will not change those policies,” he noted, and suggested it was important not to leave the Pentagon leaderless in a time of shrinking budgets and major global threats.
Republicans such as Cruz and Jim Inhofe of Nebraska called for Hagel to release information about his financial dealings over the past five years, while Democrats took offense at the disclosure demands, saying they were beyond what has been asked of nominees in the past.
“It’s not going to be a separate standard for Senator Hagel than for all other nominees,” said Levin.
“We’ve had the same set of disclosure rules in this committee for 25 years,” said Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri). “We’ve applied them across the aisle – didn’t matter if it was a Republican or a Democrat.
“As much as some people in this room don’t like it,” McCaskill added, “[Obama] was elected by the American people,” and has selected “an honorable veteran” to be secretary of defense.
“There are no minds to be changed at this point,” lamented Senator Mazie Hirono (D-Haw.) shortly before the voice vote was taken that sent the committee’s positive recommendation to the Senate floor.
Hagel’s confirmation will likely pass easily in the Senate. He has 55 Democrats almost certain to support a Democratic White House’s nominee, along with two Republican senators who have publicly said they will support Hagel, Inhofe’s (and Hagel’s) fellow Nebraskan Mike Johanns and Mississippi’s Thad Cochran. Those numbers suggest Republicans might even lose the fight if they choose to “hold” or delay the confirmation through procedural wrangling.
If Hagel is confirmed by week’s end, he may already represent the United States in a NATO defense ministers’ conference in Brussels next week.