Hagel Could Still Be Confirmed to Pentagon Post

The former senator's Republican foes may vote to confirm when the Senate reconvenes.

Former U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing to become the next secretary of defense, Jan. 31, 2013.
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Former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel is in a holding pattern to become the next secretary of defense.

Democrats want to call it a filibuster; Republicans would prefer to say members of their party are not ready to end debate on a nominee for whom they still have questions.

"Watching Republicans with otherwise distinguished records on national security place their desire to please the tea party ahead of doing the right thing for our troops is one of the saddest spectacles I have witnessed in my 27 years in the Senate," said Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on the floor late Thursday.

The reality: Hagel doesn't have the 60 votes he needs to take the post at the Pentagon just yet, but the game isn't over.

Some Republicans are likely to change their minds and approve him in 10 days when the Senate reconvenes.

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"Generally, I believe a president's cabinet nominee deserves an up-or-down vote in the Senate, but in this case, I believe a number of my colleagues have raised legitimate concerns about information that hasn't yet been made public and that extending the debate gives more time for these concerns to be addressed. Once sufficient time has passed, I am perfectly open to a 51-vote threshold," Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker said in a statement.

South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham wanted more answers about the president's actions on the evening Ambassador Christopher Stevens was killed in Benghazi, Libya. And Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz wanted Hagel to disclose more of his financial records to the Senate Armed Services Committee before he made a decision on the nominee.

Other Republicans, including Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, said Thursday they would vote to end debate on Hagel when the Senate reconvenes on February 26.

"I will vote to end debate because I believe a president's cabinet members deserve an up-or-down vote," Alexander said in a public statement.

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The president condemned the actions of Senate Republicans Thursday night during a Google Hangout, calling the delay "unprecedented" for putting partisan politics ahead of the country's security. While Leon Panetta, the outgoing secretary of defense, will continue to serve as the department head, Reid said it was not optimal to have a "lame duck" secretary at a time when North Korea is testing nuclear weapons and thousands of troops in Afghanistan are expected to come home.

Republicans are dragging their feet on the nomination, experts say, to simply make the point that they don't like Hagel or approve of some of his pasts comments on Israel and Iran.

"I think part of it is in a way to show opposition even though it is likely he will be confirmed," says Boris Epshteyn, a Republican political strategist. "It is [about] Hagel specifically because of some things he's said ... but it is also an opposition to the president and his views on Israel."

Epshteyn says Hagel is likely to get the votes he needs in the end because Republicans cannot completely stonewall a president's secretary of defense nominee, especially when he is a former colleague.

"If they don't allow a vote [down the road], then that becomes a problem," Epshteyn says. "If they continue to just hold it up unnecessarily, that would be a problem. We don't want to be an obstructionist party and just play into the Democratic plan."

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