By Jeremy Herb
Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) and 14 other Republican senators called Thursday for President Obama to withdraw former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) as his pick for Defense secretary.
The senators said in a letter to Obama that Hagel's nomination should be abandoned because it would be “unprecedented” for a Defense secretary to take over without a broad base of bipartisan support.
“In the history of this position, none has ever been confirmed with more than 11 opposing votes,” the senators wrote. “The occupant of this critical office should be someone whose candidacy is neither controversial nor divisive.”
Hagel’s confirmation has been the most contentious for a Defense secretary since former Sen. John Tower (R-Texas) was rejected by the Senate in 1989.
Among the senators on the letter are Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Ted Cruz (Texas), who each had pushed to block Hagel’s confirmation. Cruz wanted more financial information, and Graham sought more details about the terrorists attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012.
Graham, who has also asked Obama to withdraw Hagel’s nomination, says he will vote for cloture to proceed to a final vote after the current recess, after he received a White House response to his Benghazi inquiry last week.
The White House has already made clear it is sticking by Hagel, and there’s little chance Obama would consider pulling his nomination at this point.
Hagel is almost certain to get confirmed. No Democrats have said they oppose him, and a third Republican said he would vote for Hagel on Thursday: Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.).
Multiple Republican senators said last week that they would allow a final up-or-down vote to proceed on Hagel when Congress returns next week, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who was not involved in the Cornyn letter.