WASHINGTON — After a rough ride, Chuck Hagel's nomination as defense secretary is entering the home stretch.
Critics have handed the former Republican senator from Nebraska a rhetorical bludgeoning since President Barack Obama tapped him last month to succeed the retiring Leon Panetta.
And some Senate Republicans indicated recently that they would dig in their heels, threatening to block or delay the nomination's progress unless they get additional information.
|Photos: Chuck Hagel through the years|
|See more photos of Hagel, from Nebraska youngster to national statesman.|
But Senate Democrats are pushing ahead, with the Armed Services Committee setting a vote on Hagel's bid this afternoon and a full Senate vote expected yet this week.
Here's what you need to know heading into today's vote:
Q: Why is confirmation this week so important to Hagel?
A: Next week is a recess period for the Senate. So if Hagel is not confirmed before lawmakers leave town on Friday, he will not receive a full Senate vote until the end of the month. In the meantime, he would continue to dangle like a piñata with plenty of his opponents holding bats. Senate Democrats in swing states might get an earful from constituents upset with the nomination at home. And it would mean more time for the White House to consider whether Hagel is worth the bitter fight.
Q: What is the information Republicans are looking for?
A: There are two issues — the first is specific to Hagel. A group of 26 Republican senators wrote a letter asking Hagel to reveal the source of any compensation he has received over $5,000 in the past five years, even though he is legally required to hand over only two years' worth. They are also looking for any foreign funding directed to various organizations or businesses he has been involved with over the years. Hagel's supporters and even Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., say he has met the requirements and should not be subjected to a standard different from that faced by past nominees. On another front, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said he will place a “hold” on the nomination unless he gets additional answers from the Obama administration about the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. Graham said the White House has refused to respond to his letters on the subject. “This is the way the system works around here. What leverage do you have against a White House who just basically won't respond to anything?”
Q: What can opponents do to block his nomination from moving out of committee?
A: Not much at this point, it appears. The Democrats' advantage on the committee stands at 14-12, so Hagel is expected to advance to the full Senate, even if on a party-line vote. There was talk of a walkout by the panel's GOP members, but that had dissipated by Monday night. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on Monday criticized the idea of holding up the nomination over an unrelated matter such as Benghazi. “The bottom line is we have 66,000 troops serving in Afghanistan and ... significant issues to deal with internationally. We need to move forward with this nomination and make sure we have a secretary of defense.”
Q: So Hagel is still likely to get confirmed?
A: Yes. Even if Graham or others place holds on Hagel's nomination, the holds can be broken with 60 votes. Democrats hold a 55-45 edge in the Senate, and at least a half-dozen GOP members have indicated that they support Hagel's getting an up-or-down vote. McCain delivered that message Monday night when he met with fellow Republican members of the committee. “I'm encouraging my colleagues that if they want to vote against Sen. Hagel, that's one thing and that's a principled stand,” McCain told reporters. “We do not want to filibuster. We have not filibustered a Cabinet appointee in the past. ... We should move forward with his nomination and bring it to the floor and vote up or down.”
Q: What will the Nebraskans do in committee, on the floor?
A: Sens. Mike Johanns and Deb Fischer, both Republicans, have come down on different sides of the nomination. Johanns is one of two Senate Republicans supporting Hagel — the other is Thad Cochran of Mississippi. Neither is on the Armed Services Committee. Fischer is. She plans to vote against Hagel. She told The World-Herald on Monday night that the Republicans seeking further information will have a chance to express themselves today. “My mind's made up with the information that I requested, the areas that I was concerned about and Sen. Hagel's answers to those questions,” Fischer said, noting that even Democrats have criticized Hagel's performance at his confirmation hearing.
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