Despite weak Senate performance, Hagel may yet win Pentagon post
Chuck Hagel's cautious testimony may not have won converts during his contentious nomination hearing for US defence secretary, but it appeared today not to have cost support he will need to be confirmed as the new Pentagon chief.
Republicans hammered Hagel when he appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, with some of the fiercest questioning coming from those who had served alongside him during his two terms as a Republican senator from Nebraska.
Critics said Hagel performed poorly at times, speaking hesitantly, seeming tired and often unprepared for some of the sharpest queries about over his past controversial statements on Israel, Iran and U.S. nuclear strategy.
But the White House stood by Hagel today and none of the Senate's Democrats have publicly abandoned him, meaning minority Republicans would have to resort to procedural tactics to try to block his confirmation.
Hagel's nomination appears likely to clear its first hurdle - approval by the Senate Armed Services Committee - on a straight party-line vote. The earliest that vote could come is Thursday, February 7.
Hagel's performance seemed to embolden some Republicans to come out strongly against him.
Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois issued a statement on Friday criticizing Hagel's view of Iran and his testimony that he supported President Barack Obama's policy of "containment of Iran." Kirk said he would not vote for him.
Passed a note during the hearing, Hagel said he had misspoken and corrected himself. Obama says his policy is stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, not containing Tehran after it does.
But other Republican senators said that, while they will vote against Hagel, they will not stop his nomination from reaching the Senate floor, where it needs a simple majority to pass.
"Certainly my strong inclination would be that this is a vote that should be done by a majority rather than a 60-vote standard," Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri said on Fox News.
He referred to the 60 votes - all 55 Democrats, plus five Republicans - Hagel supporters would need to clear a procedural hurdle known as a filibuster.
Republican aides said they had had no word that any senator planned a filibuster, which has not been used against a Cabinet nominee since 1975.
One senior Republican aide said a successful filibuster seemed unlikely. Getting five Republicans to oppose one "doesn't seem to be an impossible hurdle to clear," the aide said.