WASHINGTON -- Chuck Hagel will twist in the wind for at least another week and a half after the Senate fell one vote short Thursday of advancing his nomination as defense secretary.
Senate Republicans said they needed more time to review the nomination, which the Armed Services Committee forwarded to the floor on Tuesday.
“Are we not entitled to have more than two days to consider one of the most important nominations the president has to make?” Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said.
Still, Senate Democrats and the White House slammed the GOP for mounting what they described as an unprecedented filibuster of a defense nominee when the country faces numerous national security threats.
“We need a secretary of defense on the job,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said. “No one knows . . . what foreign challenge will face this country perhaps within the next 10 days. And it would be nice if we had a secretary of defense.”
After weeks of bitterly divided debate over Hagel's nomination, the former GOP senator from Nebraska came oh-so-close Thursday to the 60 votes needed to overcome Republican objections and move forward.
Each of the 55 senators who caucus with the Democrats voted to advance his nomination. So did four Republicans, including Sen. Mike Johanns of Nebraska. That left Hagel in search of just one more vote.
But he couldn't find it.
Not from Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., who voted against advancing the nomination. And not from Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who voted “present.”
Once it became clear that no more yes votes were coming, Reid switched his own vote to “no.” It's a common tactic that allows Reid to quickly call for another vote.
In fact, he scheduled another vote Feb. 26, after the Senate returns from a weeklong break. Several Republican senators, including John McCain of Arizona, have said that they would support giving Hagel an up-or-down vote after the recess.
So despite Thursday's setback, Hagel is likely to run the Pentagon by the end of the month.
Three Republicans joined Johanns in voting to move Hagel forward: Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Thad Cochran of Mississippi.
Iowa's two senators split along part lines with Democrat Tom Harkin voting in favor of Hagel and Republican Chuck Grassley voting against.
While Fischer had said previously that she had no plans to filibuster Hagel, she also expressed sympathy for colleagues seeking more information and downplayed the harm in waiting a little longer.
In a statement, the White House said Republicans had put political posturing ahead of national security.
“For the first time in American history, Senate Republicans filibustered a nominee for secretary of defense a member of their own party, a decorated combat veteran, and the right leader for our troops,” the statement said. “For the sake of national security, it's time to stop playing politics with our Department of Defense, and to move beyond the distractions and delay.
“Allow this war hero an up or down vote, and let our troops have the Secretary of Defense they deserve.”
Prior to the vote, Johanns strongly disagreed with fellow Republicans who said their push for a delay did not represent a filibuster.
“It's a filibuster,” Johanns said. “If the Democrats were doing this, we would be hollering that this was a filibuster.”
Some of those pushing for the delay said they still sought past speeches by Hagel. And Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has asked for additional financial disclosure information from Hagel, suggesting it's possible that some of his compensation from various corporations or organizations could have come from foreign governments such as Saudi Arabia or North Korea.
Democrats strongly objected to such talk as out-of-bounds. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said there was no evidence to support insinuations that there was anything nefarious with money Hagel received from one major investment fund.
“The innuendo that there's something wrong with that fee and that there might be Saudi or Iranian money into that fee it's a pure innuendo, it's unfair and it's inappropriate,” Levin said.
But throughout the day, Republicans kept asking where was the harm in the delay?
Alexander noted that it took him nearly three months to be confirmed after President George H. W. Bush nominated him to be Secretary of Education.
Still, Johanns agreed with Democrats that Hagel needs to get on the job quickly so outgoing Secretary Leon Panetta can leave, particularly with a key conference with military allies coming up next week.
“I just think it's important to have a secretary of defense in place,” Johanns said.
Asked about his colleagues' objections, Johanns noted Hagel's penchant for blunt talk.
“Chuck Hagel is a provocative person who says provocative things and he has over the years,” Johanns said. “Some say, 'I admire his directness'; others say, 'his statements concern me about the Middle East.' All of that has kind of created an atmosphere where Chuck is working for every single vote. And that's just the reality of where he finds himself.”
This report contains material from the Associated Press.
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