WASHINGTON - Senate Democrats are pushing ahead with a vote Tuesday on Chuck Hagel's nomination to be defence 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.
Cabinet secretaries and other high-profile posts need to be confirmed by the Senate, though rejections are extremely rare.
Obama tapped Hagel, 66, a former two-term Republican senator and twice-wounded combat veteran in Vietnam, to succeed Defence Secretary Leon Panetta, who is stepping down after serving as CIA director and Pentagon chief in the president's first term. As a senator Hagel was an independent and often broke ranks with his fellow Republicans on big issues such as the Iraq war and U.S. policy on Israel.
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 growing complaints from Republicans.
Levin's opposition to Republican calls for more of Hagel's personal finances and his intent to hold a vote got a strong endorsement from the panel's former top Republican — Sen. John McCain.
He said in a statement on Monday that Hagel had fulfilled the panel's rigorous requirements on information and a vote should occur. McCain said he still had concerns about Hagel's national security positions and declined to say how he would vote.
"I believe it is appropriate for the Armed Services Committee to vote on Senator Hagel's nomination and determine whether to move this nomination to the Senate floor where members can debate and express their own judgments on Senator Hagel," said McCain, who also rejected any Republican protest of the vote.
"I will not participate in any walkout of tomorrow's committee vote — an action that would be disrespectful to Chairman Levin and at odds with the best traditions of the Senate Armed Services Committee," McCain said.
McCain also met privately late Monday with some committee Republicans and urged them not to block the nomination, saying it would set a bad precedent and pointing out that someday the roles could be reversed with a Republican president and a Republican-led Senate.
"I'm encouraging my colleagues if they want to vote against Sen. Hagel that's one thing and that's a principled stand," McCain told a group of reporters.
Democrats hold a 14-12 edge on the Armed Services panel and it is 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.
The committee is deeply divided over the nominee, with Democrats backing the president's choice and Republicans pressing for more information about Hagel's finances and foreign donors to organizations that he has been affiliated with since leaving the Senate in 2009. Two Republicans on the committee — Sens. Jim Inhofe and Lindsey Graham — have threatened to use their power to stop the nomination.
In the full 100-member Senate, all 55 Democrats— and two Republicans — have said they will vote for the nominee. At least four Republicans have said they would oppose using parliamentary delaying tactics on the nomination of the president's Cabinet pick, ensuring that the Hagel nomination has at least 60 votes to move forward.
© Copyright 2013