Republicans Block Vote on Hagel Nomination, For Now
U.S. Senate Republicans successfully blocked Chuck Hagel's nomination to be President Barack Obama's next Pentagon chief on Thursday, forcing a 10-day delay in his confirmation vote, AFP reported.
By a vote of 58-40 with one member voting present, Democrats failed to overcome a procedural roadblock put up by Republicans who had demanded more time to receive answers to their questions. One senator was absent.
It leaves Hagel's nomination in limbo while the Senate takes a week-long recess. The nomination, however, is expected to pass on February 26.
Democrats needed 60 votes to end debate on the nomination and head to a floor vote. Senators said the failure to proceed marked just the third time that a so-called "filibuster" against a cabinet nominee was successful.
Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid took to the floor immediately after the vote to rail against the move, which he saw as "embarrassing the president" at a time of tensions in the Middle East, ongoing war in Afghanistan and North Korea recently testing a nuclear device.
"Republicans have made an unfortunate choice to ratchet up the level (of partisanship) here in Washington," a furious Reid said, according to AFP.
He added that he would call Hagel, a Republican former senator, and say, "I'm sorry for the president, I'm sorry for the country and I'm sorry for you. But I'm not going to give up on you."
In a separate statement, Reid expressed bafflement about what he described as "one of the saddest spectacles I have witnessed in my 27 years in the Senate."
"I think we all need to take a deep breath," a White House official told AFP on condition of anonymity, adding, "Senator Hagel is going to be confirmed, if not tomorrow then when the Senate returns from recess."
Republicans had blocked Reid's previous attempts to bring Hagel's nomination up for a vote on the Senate floor, demanding more details on his finances and on Obama's management of a September attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.
Several Republicans, including Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, said Thursday they were ready to drop their blocking tactics, but only after the recess, frustrating White House demands for a vote by the end of this week.
Hagel's critics say they are worried by his past remarks and voting record on Israel, Iran and other issues.
The Republican Jewish Coalition, along with countless others, has cited a long list of Hagel’s anti-Israel policies, asserting that his nomination would “be a slap in the face for every American who is concerned about the safety of Israel.”
Hagel recently claimed that there is "not one shred of evidence that I'm anti-Israeli, not one (Senate) vote that matters that hurt Israel."
"I didn't sign on to certain resolutions and letters because they were counter-productive and didn't solve a problem," he said.
Hagel faced fire from Republicans at his confirmation hearing over his past anti-Israel remarks and his attitude towards Iran. These included past comments he made that there’s no justification for Israel to "keep Palestinians caged up like animals."
A newly surfaced video which was posted to YouTube on Sunday shows Hagel as having expressed in 2008 more concern over Israel's nuclear weapons than Iran's and advocating that the U.S. engage with Iran and Syria.
On Thursday, new reports indicated that the controversial nominee failed to disclose damning Senate speeches he delivered to contentious groups known for their anti-Israel bias.
Fox News Channel earlier in the week aired reports of two speeches that Hagel gave in connection the Israel-Arab conflict and of which he failed to hand over transcripts or notes.
In one of the speeches, delivered to Rutgers University's Center for Middle East Studies and in 2007, Hagel reportedly said that the U.S. Department of State is controlled by Israel.