Senate Panel to Vote Today on Hagel Selection

Washington (AP) -

Senate Democrats are pushing ahead with a vote Tuesday on Chuck Hagel’s nomination to be defense secretary, rejecting Republican demands for more financial information from Hagel in a politically charged fight over President Barack Obama’s second-term national security team.

In a brief statement, Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said the panel would meet Tuesday afternoon with the “intention to vote on the nomination after the members have an opportunity for discussion.” Levin had hoped to hold a committee vote last Thursday, but postponed it amid complaints from Republicans that Hagel hadn’t sufficiently answered questions about his personal finances.

Not all Republicans shared that view, however.

“I have examined the information and responses to members’ questions that Senator Hagel has provided to the committee, and I believe that he has fulfilled the rigorous requirements that the committee demands of every presidential nominee to be secretary of defense,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said in a statement Monday backing Levin’s plans for a vote.

McCain’s expression of confidence in Hagel’s answers was a crucial counterpoint to GOP criticism of the nominee, who still faces Republican threats to block or delay his selection. McCain, the panel’s former top Republican, has said he’s leaning against supporting his former colleague and friend, but he made clear he would not participate in any walkout by committee Republicans over a Hagel vote.

Hagel, 66, has faced strong opposition from Republicans over his past statements and votes on Israel, Iran, nuclear weapons and Iraq, in which he initially backed the war but later opposed it.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Monday that the full Senate could vote either Wednesday or Thursday on the nomination, dismissing talk of a filibuster of a Cabinet nominee as unprecedented.

“There’s never in the history of the country ever been a filibuster on a defense secretary, and I’m confident there won’t be on this one,” Reid said at the start of the Senate session.

Democrats hold a 14-12 edge on the Armed Services panel and it’s likely that Hagel will win approval on a party-line vote just hours before Obama delivers his State of the Union address at the Capitol.

Two Republicans on the committee — Sens. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina — have threatened to use their power to stop the nomination.

“I would threaten to cause a 60-vote margin; yes I would. If it took a filibuster, I’d do it that way,” Inhofe, the top Republican on the committee, told Fox News on Sunday.

Graham signaled that he would hold up Senate confirmation of Hagel and CIA Director-designate John Brennan if he doesn’t get more answers about the fatal assault on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, last month.