WASHINGTON – Senate Republicans vowed Thursday to block a final vote to confirm Chuck Hagel as Defense secretary until after next week’s Presidents Day recess, arguing Democrats were unnecessarily rushing a vote on a controversial choice.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has nonetheless called for a vote Thursday afternoon seeking to end the what he called a GOP filibuster – a vote that will likely fall short of the 60-vote threshold needed to proceed. But several key Republicans pledged to support moving forward with a final confirmation vote when the Senate returns on Feb. 25, saying the 10-day delay would allow more senators to study Hagel’s full record and allow remaining concerns to be satisfied.
“There’s a coalescing around the idea that two days after committee is too soon for someone this controversial,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of Hagel’s chief critics, said after emerging from a closed-door lunch of the GOP conference Thursday. The Senate Armed Services Committee reported out Hagel’s nomination Tuesday afternoon on a party-line vote.
Graham declared that he was satisfied with the White House’s response to questions he posed earlier this week, along with Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), about President Obama’s actions after the terrorist raid on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya. But other senators still had questions.
“There is a desire to not end debate now. We haven’t had much of a debate, people outside the committee. We feel like when we come back next week after the break, unless there’s some bombshell, I would be ready to move on to vote,” Graham said.
McCain, who had previously indicated he was not willing to filibuster a Cabinet choice, also supported the delay.
“I believe that senators have the right to have those questions answered,” he said on the Senate floor. “I think that during the break, it’s sufficient time to get any additional questions answered, and I will vote in favor of cloture the day we get back.”
Earlier Thursday, Reid cast the delaying tactics from Republicans as “political theater,” suggesting that senators like Graham who face reelection bids in 2014 were trying to showcase conservative bona fides to ward off primary challenges.
Graham rejected the idea, saying Reid was simply “choosing to create confrontation where there should be none.”
“What if the shoe were on the other foot? What if he had a controversial nominee by a Republican [president] who’d been out of committee for two days, and some members of his caucus wanted to look at the transcript and the record over a break,” he said. “I got a feeling Sen. Reid would be exactly where I am or even bolder.”