It looks like the Senate Armed Services Committee will vote on Chuck Hagel’s nomination for Secretary of Defense on Tuesday, putting to rest some speculation that Republican senators on the committee would try to block the vote or walk out in protest. Both Senators James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) have made it clear they will not walk out.
McCain issued a statement calling for a prompt Committee vote, while making it clear he’s still not crazy about the Hagel nomination:
I share many of the concerns expressed by my colleagues regarding Senator Chuck Hagel???s positions on many national security policy issues. His performance before the Senate Armed Services Committee was discouraging and disappointing, and his often adversarial attitude toward legitimate questions from Committee members was troubling.
At the same time, I have full confidence in the Committee???s rigorous process for vetting nominees, which has been developed and relied upon for decades by Members of both parties. This process ensures a comprehensive and thorough examination of every aspect of a nominee???s history, including but not limited to personal and public records, tax returns, potential conflicts of interest, and an FBI background check, all carried out by highly experienced professionals from both parties. As a member of the Committee for 26 years, and most recently as Ranking Member, I have always been confident that no matter how I personally felt about a particular nominee, the Committee???s process produced the information that Members needed to make up their minds on the President???s nominees and to vote on them within the Committee.
The integrity of the Armed Services Committee???s nomination process is vitally important. It ensures that no matter which party holds power in the White House or the Senate, nominations for critical national security positions are handled in a fair and appropriate manner that is mindful of the enormous responsibilities these positions hold for our nation???s defense. With this in mind, I have examined the information and responses to Members??? questions that Senator Hagel has provided to the Committee, and I believe that he has fulfilled the rigorous requirements that the Committee demands of every Presidential nominee to be Secretary of Defense. As a result, 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. 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.
Finally, I share Senator Graham???s deep concerns about unanswered questions regarding the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012. The American people deserve to have all the answers about why four brave Americans died in Benghazi, and this Administration???s actions ??? including those of the President ??? before, during and after that tragic day.
The latter comments are a reference to Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who said on CBS’ Face the Nation that he intended to block the nominations of Hagel and prospective CIA Director John Brennan until the Administration comes clean about the Benghazi outrage, during an exchange with host Bob Schieffer:
GRAHAM: I don’t think we should allow Brennan to go forward the CIA directorship, Hagel to be confirmed for secretary of defense, until the White House gives us an accounting. Did the president ever pick up the phone and call anyone in the Libyan government to help these folks? What did the president do? We know he talked to the Israeli prime minister from 8:00 to 9:00 on September 11 about a dust-up of a Democratic platform and the fact he didn’t meet the prime minister of Israel when he came to New York to visit the UN. But that’s not related to Libya. What did he do that night? That’s not unfair. The families need to know. The American people need to know.
SCHIEFFER: But let me — I’m not sure I understand. What do you plan to do if they don’t give you an answer? Are you going to put a hold on these two nominations?
GRAHAM: Yes. Yes. Yes. I’m going to ask my colleagues, just like they did with John Bolton. Joe Biden said no confirmation without information. No confirmation without information. You know, when Secretary Clinton said she had a clear-eyed assessment of the threats in Libya, that proved, after this hearing, not to be true. The Department of Defense knew about the cable coming from our Libyan ambassador saying he couldn’t defend the consulate. This was on August 15th. They knew about the deteriorating security situation. But the secretary of state didn’t know any of this. So she was blind. The president was disengaged. And the Department of Defense never launched one airplane to help these folks for seven and a half hours. This is a complete system failure. And I’m going to get to the bottom of it. I don’t think it’s unfair to ask these questions. Quite frankly, how could they say, after Panetta and Dempsey said they knew it was a terrorist attack that night, how could the president say for two weeks after the attack it was the result of a video? How could Susan Rice come on to your show and say there’s no evidence of a terrorist attack when our secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs said they knew that night? I think that was a misleading narrative three weeks before our election.
SCHIEFFER: Let me just make sure, because you’re about to make some news mere, I think. You are saying that you are going to block the nominations — you’re going to block them from coming to a vote until you get an answer to this?
Schieffer went on to note that Graham’s old friend John McCain wasn’t going to support a filibuster, and if Hagel’s about to escape the Armed Services Committee to reach the full Senate, it’s not clear how Graham would actually “block” the nomination in any meaningful sense. Presumably what he actually means is that he’s going to take the opportunity of the Hagel and Brennan votes to talk about what happened in Benghazi and demand some answers. But as outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton might ask, “What difference, at this point, does it make?”
Graham spoke primarily of holding up the Hagel nomination in protest over Benghazi, not Hagel’s appalling performance during confirmation hearings, which left fellow Face the Nation guest, Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), to make the hilarious case that Hagel is “eminently qualified” for his new job. By shifting the discussion away from the disturbing questions about Hagel’s competence, and instead using it to shine a (much-needed) spotlight on the Benghazi smokescreen, Republicans like Graham and McCain are giving queasy Democrats all the cover they need to set qualms about Hagel aside and vote in favor, loud and proud. Of course, given the composition of the Senate and the public’s focus on other issues, there probably wasn’t any realistic chance of peeling off enough of those uneasy Democrats to halt the Hagel nomination. The Benghazi strategy of Graham and McCain may indicate they’ve given up on the effort.
Politico reports on the political dilemma faced by Armed Services chair Carl Levin (D-MI):
Levin faces a conundrum: He can force a party-line vote on Hagel, but that could damage the committee???s longtime bipartisan spirit.
Last Thursday???s hearing with Panetta alarmed Levin, Democrats said. Levin worries the aggressive, pointed questioning that Republicans directed at Panetta over the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, could signal some Republicans simply will not compromise on the issue of Hagel???s nomination.
???Fed up is the right term for [Levin???s mood],??? said a Democratic source. ???After the Benghazi hearing, it showed what we are dealing with on the Republican side.???
Got that? The Democrat Party could not care less what happened in Benghazi, how Ambassador Chris Stevens was placed in the situation that claimed his life, or what Barack Obama was doing when Americans came under fire. Frankly, they’re “fed up” with people who won’t just let it go. “Accountability” is a thin charade that ends when a couple of officials mouth the words “I take full responsibility.” The jaw-dropping testimony given by Panetta isn’t the issue; the issue is that mean old Republicans asked him those tough questions.
Graham noted in his Face the Nation appearance that if Obama had taken a personal hand in demanding aid for Stevens from the Libyan government, the results might have been different. We may never know. And the Democrat Party insists that we stop asking.