WASHINGTON — Chuck Hagel appears likely to be the country's next defense secretary, despite his widely panned performance last week before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Several Senate Republicans, including some of Hagel's toughest critics, indicated Monday that they will not filibuster the former GOP senator from Nebraska.
“It would be inappropriate to filibuster,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., one of the toughest questioners at Thursday's hearing.
McCain sharply and repeatedly pressed Hagel on his opposition to the 2007 troop surge in Iraq. McCain strongly supported the surge.
The Arizonan said he still hadn't decided whether to vote for Hagel's nomination, but he made it clear that he'll oppose any effort to filibuster. Other Republicans made similar statements.
And that's really all Hagel needs.
He still has to get through the Armed Services Committee, which could vote as early as Thursday. But Democrats, who control 55 seats in the Senate, have been steadily falling in line behind the nomination.
It takes 60 votes to break a filibuster, so Hagel needs only a handful of Republicans to oppose a filibuster, even if they ultimately vote against the nomination.
His nomination already has the solid support of two Republicans — Sens. Thad Cochran of Mississippi and Mike Johanns of Nebraska.
Add in McCain and a few others and he's there. Just listen to Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.
“There has to be an awfully high threshold to filibuster a Cabinet nominee, and I doubt that that threshold has been met in this case, so I'm not inclined to support a filibuster,” Collins said. “To support a filibuster, the person would have to have done something egregious. It would be virtually unprecedented for there to be a filibuster against a Cabinet nominee.”
Hagel still could face a high number of Republican no votes.
Collins said she still was reviewing a recording of Thursday's hearing, but based on what she had seen, Hagel's performance was far from impressive. Collins and Hagel also had a 90-minute, one-on-one meeting, she noted.
“He did far better in his private meeting with me than in the public hearing, but there's still issues on which we disagree,” Collins said.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, also was weighing the nomination but said she's generally opposed to filibustering presidential nominees.
“One of the prerogatives of the president is to appoint his Cabinet,” Murkowski said.
One of Hagel's most outspoken critics, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. , said he was reluctant to filibuster, but he also urged the White House to reconsider the nomination.
“He's a good man, but at times the hearings were almost incoherent,” Graham said of Hagel.
Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., was continuing to withhold judgment on the nomination, saying that she still had outstanding questions on cybersecurity issues that she wanted Hagel to answer.
Even from Democrats, Hagel has received poor reviews of his performance at the hearing, during which he often fumbled for answers and made a number of misstatements.
Appearing on NBC's “Meet the Press” on Sunday, former Obama White House press secretary Robert Gibbs described it as “disconcerting” that Hagel seemed “unimpressive and unprepared” for GOP questions.
But the White House was standing by its man. White House press secretary Jay Carney suggested that Republicans spent too much time dwelling on Hagel's past statements and long-settled policy questions such as the Iraq surge.
“Focusing on this hearing, which was dominated by a rehashing of a debate between Republicans about the Iraq War, misses the overall import of this, which is that Sen. Hagel is an enormously qualified, decorated war veteran and two-term Republican senator who will be an excellent secretary of defense,” Carney said Monday.
He noted that several senators had announced their support of Hagel since Thursday's hearing.
“So we remain confident that Sen. Hagel will be confirmed and confident that he will be an excellent secretary of defense,” Carney said.
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