White House Dismisses Battle Over Hagel Nomination As ‘Posturing’

By Patrick Goodenough | February 22, 2013 | 4:44 AM EST

Former Sen. Chuck Hagel shakes hands with the man he has been nominated to succeed as secretary of defense, Leon Panetta, at a convention in Washington on May 9, 2012. (DoD photo by Glenn Fawcett)

(CNSNews.com) – Urging President Obama to withdraw his nomination of Chuck Hagel to be defense secretary, a group of 15 Republican senators pointed out that their former colleague from Nebraska is drawing more Senate opposition than any nominee to that post in history.

But White House spokesman Jay Carney said the nomination would “absolutely not” be withdraw, and he dismissed the Republican opposition as political “posturing” and “gamesmanship,” calling it a “waste of time” but also saying that it was “of consequence.”

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In their letter to the president, the Republicans noted, "Over the last half-century, no Secretary of Defense has been confirmed and taken office with more than three Senators voting against him. Further, in the history of this position, none has ever been confirmed with more than 11 opposing votes.”

“The occupant of this critical office should be someone whose candidacy is neither controversial nor divisive,” it said.

Signatories included Minority Whip Sen. John Cornyn (Texas) and five members of the Armed Services Committee – ranking member Sen. James Inhofe (Okla.) and Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Ted Cruz (Texas), Mike Lee (Utah) and David Vitter (La.).

Rejecting their appeal, Carney also drew on the historical precedent.

“For the first time in American history, Senate Republicans filibustered a nominee for secretary of defense – a member of their own party, a decorated combat veteran, and the right leader for our troops,” he told a press briefing when asked about the GOP letter.

In a February 14 vote, Senate Republicans narrowly blocked a bid to end debate and advance the nomination to a final up-or-down vote.

“There are 66,000 men and women in uniform in Afghanistan" Carney said, "and we need our new secretary of defense on the job to be part of the significant decisions that have to be made as we bring that war to a responsible end.”

Carney did not respond to specific concerns raised in the senators’ letter, which included Hagel’s confirmation hearing performance, his declaration of the legitimacy of a regime in Tehran that rigs elections, represses its citizens, sponsors terror and has denied the Holocaust, and what they said was “a seeming ambivalence about whether containment or prevention is the best approach” in dealing with Iran’s nuclear program.

The senators recalled that outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had been unanimously confirmed, and they said his successor “should have a similar level of broad-based bipartisan support and confidence in order to succeed at a time when the Department of Defense faces monumental challenges.”

Those challenges included defense spending cuts, the Iranian and North Korean nuclear crises, Afghanistan, Syria, “the ongoing Global War on Terror,” a strategic pivot to the Asia-Pacific, and the “aftermath of the Arab Spring.”

Rounding out the 15 signatories were Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.), Roger Wicker (Miss.), Tim Scott (S.C.), Tom Coburn (Okla.), Pat Toomey (Pa.), Dan Coats (Ind.), John Barrasso (Wyo.),  Ron Johnson (Wisc.) and James Risch (Idaho).

The Senate returns from recess next week and the Democratic leadership is expected to push for an up-or-down vote on Hagel’s nomination on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Carney said the nomination would “absolutely not” be withdrawn and expressed no doubt that the vote would succeed – “we firmly believe that Senator Hagel will be confirmed.”

The nominee edged closer to that goal Thursday when Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), who voted on Feb. 14 to delay the vote on the confirmation, was reported to now be planning to vote for Hagel.

An article in Alabama’s Decatur Daily, linked on Shelby’s website, quoted him as saying, “He’s probably as good as we’re going to get.”

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow