WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House on Friday dismissed criticism of Chuck Hagel's hesitant congressional testimony and insisted that it expects the Senate to confirm him as defense secretary.
One day after Hagel was roughed up in a grueling confirmation hearing, White House spokesman Jay Carney said that Hagel did a “fine job” and that the Obama administration would be stunned if Republicans tried to block the nomination of a decorated Vietnam combat veteran and former two-term GOP senator.
“The president believes Sen. Hagel will make an excellent secretary of defense and that he will be confirmed, and he looks forward to working with Sen. Hagel in that position as we continue to advance our national security priorities,” Carney said.
If confirmed, Hagel, 66, would be the lone Republican in President Barack Obama's Cabinet, the first Vietnam veteran to be defense secretary and the first enlisted man to take the post.
Hagel seemed ill-prepared under withering cross-examination from Senate Armed Services Committee Republicans in nearly eight hours of testimony. He was repeatedly pressed about past statements and votes on Israel, Iran and nuclear weapons.
Senate Democrats, who hold the majority, continue to stand behind the nomination, and no Democrat has said he or she would vote against the president's pick for his second-term national security team.
But Republican opposition grew Friday as Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, a member of the committee; Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk and North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr announced that they would vote against Hagel.
About a dozen Republicans have said they will oppose their former colleague and several others have indicated that they are likely to vote no.
So far, Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran, the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee, is the only Republican to announce his support for Hagel.
While Blunt announced his opposition, he signaled he would not support any effort to block the nomination.
Blunt is a member of the GOP leadership team, and his reluctance to wage a filibuster fight is a positive sign for Hagel amid the threat of efforts to block the nomination.
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