WASHINGTON — Senators voted 71-to-27 on Tuesday to close debate on Chuck Hagel’s nomination for secretary for defense, clearing the way for his nomination to go a full Senate floor vote at 4:30 p.m.
Hagel’s nomination for the top Cabinet position has been marked by a series of delays over the past few weeks, as Republican lawmakers have demanded more financial information or additional texts of his past speeches.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., criticized GOP Senators for delaying the vote “for one reason and one reason only: partisanship” and for mounting “a first of its kind filibuster” on Hagel’s nomination.
Democratic senators, who maintain a 55-45 edge in the Senate, tried unsuccessfully on Feb. 14 to stop the discussion and call for a final vote on Hagel’s confirmation. A 60-vote majority would have been needed to overcome the delay – and this move became the source of continuing debate between both parties.
“And what has their filibuster gained my Republican colleagues?” Reid asked in Tuesday’s floor debate. “Twelve days later, nothing has changed. Twelve days later, Senator Hagel’s exemplary record of service to his country remains untarnished. … Twelve days later, the majority of the senators still support his confirmation.”
”For the sake of national security, it’s time to set aside this partisanship,” he said. With sequestration just days away, he said, “the Pentagon needs a seasoned leader to implements those cuts.”
Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., Senate Armed Services ranking member, said on Tuesday on the Senate floor that GOP lawmakers did not filibuster Hagel’s nomination. He said it used its 60-vote threshold to delay a final vote, which “happens all the time.”
He also noted that a number of GOP senators wrote a letter to President Barack Obama, requesting he nominate someone that both parties could agree upon, such as former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy or Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter.
Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said that he was troubled by Hagel’s statements, which showed a reluctance to be tough on Iran and a lack of support for Israel. And he said he wasn’t satisfied by Hagel’s repudiation of his statements about Israel and the “Jewish lobby” in a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.
Calling him a “ divisive and distracting choice” for the office, Wicker called Hagel out for blaming his statements “on a poor choice of words.”
“One or two troubling statements might not be disqualifying, when taken alone, but all of the positions taken together paint what I believe is an accurate picture of this nominee…,” Wicker said during Tuesday’s floor debate. “Changing viewpoints for the purpose of political expediency or to make headlines is not the mark of a steadfast leader.”
Reid and Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., advocated for Hagel’s confirmation based on the former Nebraska senator’s reputation as someone who speaks his mind – and would be provide frank advice to the president, telling them “what he believed to be true -- rather than what was politically expedient.”