What was supposed to be a relatively quick vote Tuesday by the Senate Armed Services Committee on the nomination of Chuck Hagel for secretary of defense turned into a bit of political theater that resembled more of a nomination hearing. However, on a rare party line vote for the SASC, Hagel was approved 14–11 and will have his nomination move to a full Senate vote.
Senators from both sides of the aisle took their turn Tuesday afternoon to elaborate on their votes with two Republican senators making attempts to delay the vote.
The more than two-hour long session got testy when lawmakers lectured fellow members of the committee for what some considered attacking the character of Hagel, a twice wounded Vietnam veteran and two-term Republican senator from Nebraska.
Freshman Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, drew the ire from Democrats and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., when he suggested the vote be delayed until Hagel more thoroughly disclose his financial records. Cruz suggested that Hagel could have received money from defense firms or foreigners thus providing a potential conflict of interest.
“You also stated your opinion that you don’t think he’s truthful. Those are two fairly strong statements,” said Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., after he said Cruz had impugned the character of Hagel.
McCain, who voted against Hagel, followed up with a defense of his former fellow Republican SASC member.
“Sen. Hagel is an honorable man. No one on this committee should impugn his character and integrity,” the senator from Arizona said.
Hagel’s nomination next moves to the Senate floor unless a senator chooses to block the vote. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., tried to put a hold on the Senate floor vote saying he wants more information on the former senator’s finances and the attacks in Benghazi.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., reportedly said Tuesday night that he will not honor the hold. To that Graham told a group of reporters after the State of the Union that he would fight Reid’s decision and demand a cloture vote.
Republican highlighted many of the same points they made during the confirmation hearing in questioning his support of Israel and how tough he will be on Iran. Following news of a third nuclear test in North Korea, Republican senators said this is not the time to consider lessening America’s nuclear stockpile — a stance that Hagel has supported along with President Obama.
The additional two hour session before the vote was held at 5 p.m. EST, followed what was an 8-hour confirmation hearing where Hagel, 66, stumbled on a few of his answers. In one instance, Hagel said he supported the containment of Iran, which would mean the country would be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons. Hagel later corrected the record in regards to his mistake.
“The next secretary of defense will deal with a world on fire, and the testimony of Sen. Hagel was not reassuring,” Graham said.
Many predicted Hagel’s nomination would end as a party line vote. Republicans had previously threatened to filibuster the vote, but chose not to.
Throughout the session, Republicans and Democrats lamented how their committee — traditionally a bipartisan group — had devolved to voting squarely on party lines. Sen. Claire McCaskil, D-Mo., said she hoped the vote Tuesday was merely an “aberration.”
Those inside the Pentagon will keep a close eye to see if any senator does try to delay the vote in the Senate. Panetta is expected to host his last press conference as defense secretary on Thursday pending any delay to the vote.