WASHINGTON — Sen. Deb Fischer said Thursday that while she will vote against Chuck Hagel's nomination to be defense secretary, she has no plans to filibuster him.
The Nebraska Republican's comments are in line with those by other GOP senators who have noted that whatever their concerns about Hagel's policy positions or ability, it would be highly irregular to filibuster a Cabinet nominee.
The Republican reluctance to filibuster Hagel is why he is likely to be confirmed in the end, although GOP senators continue to seek additional materials from him.
Fischer expressed support for those seeking the information but said that if Hagel doesn't have it, he doesn't have it.
She announced her opposition to Hagel on Thursday in an exclusive World-Herald opinion piece.
Fischer wrote that she did not make her decision lightly and that she appreciates Hagel's service — both as an infantryman in Vietnam, where he was wounded twice, and as a two-term U.S. senator representing Nebraska.
“However, after meeting with him privately and witnessing his confusing and contradictory testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, I cannot support his nomination,” Fischer wrote.
Fischer is a member of that committee, which announced Wednesday that it would delay a vote on the nomination until at least next week.
Hagel has the strong support of a long list of diplomatic and national security luminaries, including former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski and former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
Although it appears likely Hagel ultimately will be confirmed, his road to the top of the Pentagon has been a rocky one.
Outside groups have tried to whip up opposition to the nomination with intense lobbying efforts and campaign-style television ads. And Hagel was widely criticized for an uneven performance in the face of pointed questions last week. Fischer and other Republican members of the committee pressed him on his past statements and actions regarding Iran, Israel and nuclear arms reductions.
Hagel supporters have suggested that Republicans were overly consumed with rehashing policy questions of the past, such as the 2007 troop surge in Iraq, and paid scant attention to contemporary matters, such as U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan.
But Fischer cast Hagel's past judgments as highly relevant to his nomination. For example, Hagel voted against unilateral sanctions on Iran during President George W. Bush's time in office.
At the time, Hagel questioned the effectiveness of unilateral sanctions, in which the United States imposes penalties on its own, as opposed to working with other countries to impose sanctions as a group.
But Fischer wrote that Hagel still refuses to disavow his previous votes, even though those sanctions brought pressure on Iran.
“Similarly, when pressed by Senator John McCain about his opposition to the surge of troops in Iraq, which helped to turn around an unsuccessful war, Senator Hagel refused to acknowledge his incorrect judgment,” Fischer wrote. “I understand no one has all the answers, or is correct 100 percent of the time. But as an elected official, I also believe leadership requires the humility to admit being wrong.”
Fischer's decision to vote against Hagel puts her at odds with home-state colleague and fellow Republican Sen. Mike Johanns, who announced his support for Hagel on Saturday.
“I think he'll be firm with our enemies,” Johanns said then, “and I believe he'll be side by side with our allies, and I believe he'll exercise good judgment.”
Fischer wrote that in order to maintain military readiness, the next defense secretary must be able to stave off dangerous budget cuts by winning over the public and building bipartisan consensus on Capitol Hill.
“Instead, we have a nominee who publicly characterized the Pentagon as 'bloated' and later offered an unimpressive hearing performance, leaving lawmakers on both sides of the aisle wondering if he was up to the daunting task,” she wrote.
“Moreover, to lead the Pentagon at this critical juncture, we need a secretary with organizational and budgetary expertise to effectively manage the world's largest bureaucracy — experience Senator Hagel lacks.”
Hagel and his supporters have touted his résumé, which includes establishing a successful cellphone company, running the World USO and serving as deputy administrator of the Veterans Administration. He's also co-chairman of President Barack Obama's Intelligence Advisory Board.
Fischer's questioning during the hearing focused largely on Hagel's co-authorship of a May 2012 Global Zero report that dealt with nuclear arms reductions.
Hagel said during the hearing that the report was nothing but an illustration of possible policy scenarios. Hagel allies have pointed to statements by others, including Ronald Reagan, about the importance of ridding the world of nuclear weapons.
But Fischer disputed Hagel's suggestion that the report is nothing but illustrations.
“The report makes numerous controversial claims and contradicts the profound, bipartisan consensus position regarding the nuclear arsenal's future,” Fischer wrote.
Hagel endorsed Fischer's opponent in the November election, former Nebraska governor and U.S. Sen. Bob Kerrey, a Democrat. Fischer has said that endorsement would not be a factor in her decision.
In explaining her opposition to Hagel, she cited a 1989 quote by Kerrey about President George H.W. Bush's failed nomination of John Tower to be defense secretary.
Kerrey said at the time that would-be defense secretaries deserve special scrutiny because they are handed the authority to move troops.
“I agree with this heightened standard,” Fischer wrote.
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