White House demands vote on Chuck Hagel for Defense Secretary

2:46 PM, Feb 14, 2013   |    comments
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(USA TODAY) -- The White House denounced a possible filibuster of Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel on Thursday and demanded a confirmation vote this week, saying the nation and the world need a leader in the Pentagon as soon as possible.

"These delaying tactics are unconscionable and they should end right away," said White House spokesman Joshua Earnest.

Earnest noted that the military faces massive budget cuts as part of the $85 billion budget sequester set to take effect March 1 unless the White House and Congress reach a new debt reduction deal.

Global defense ministers are scheduled to meet in Brussels next week to discuss the Afghanistan withdrawal, Earnest said, and "we need our new defense secretary to be there."

Some Senate Republicans have threatened to block a vote on Hagel's nomination, saying they want more financial information from the nominee and more information from President Obama about the deadly Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has filed a motion to limit debate on Hagel and force a vote Friday, but he needs 60 votes to overcome a GOP filibuster. The Democratic caucus has a 55-45 advantage in the Senate, but it's not clear they have the five Republican votes necessary to produce a confirmation vote.

Hagel clearly has the votes to be confirmed, Reid said, but Republicans are seeking excuses to delay this and other Obama initiatives. "The pattern has been clear for months," Reid said, "as soon as President Obama's administration responds to one request, Republicans devise another, more outlandish request."

Reid noted there has never been a filibuster of a Defense secretary nominee, and he called the potential development "shocking" and "tragic."

Citing his request for more information on what Obama knew about Benghazi, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said: "There seems to not be much interest to hold this president accountable for a national security breakdown that led to the first ambassador being killed in the line of duty in over 30 years. No, the debate on Chuck Hagel is not over. It has not been serious. We don't have the information we need."

Throughout the confirmation process, some Republicans have criticized Hagel -- a former GOP senator from Nebraska -- by saying he has been too critical of Israel and too soft on Iran and its nuclear ambitions. Some also cited what they called Hagel's poor performance during his confirmation hearing.

White House officials said Republicans are only re-litigating the debate over the Iraq War, which Hagel initially supported and then turned against.

Earnest pointed out that Hagel is a Republican now being blocked by Republicans, and that does not send "a favorable signal" to the world.

"It's difficult to explain to our allies exactly what's happening," Earnest said.

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