By Jeremy Herb
The top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee is calling for Republican senators to block former Sen. Chuck Hagel’s (R-Neb.) confirmation once again when the Senate returns next week.
Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) sent a “Dear Colleague” letter to senators Thursday lobbying for them to vote against cloture on Hagel, saying that voting to end debate is the equivalent of voting to confirm Hagel for the top Pentagon post.
Inhofe’s push against proceeding to a final up-or-down vote on Hagel when Congress returns puts him at odds with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) — who stepped down as ranking member of the Armed Services panel this year — and other Republicans who say they will vote for cloture next week even if they oppose Hagel’s confirmation.
“I hope the extra time afforded to review his record has been beneficial and you once again, will join me in voting against cloture,” Inhofe wrote in the letter, obtained by The Hill.
Inhofe has been one of the most vocal opponents of Hagel, alleging that he was “cozy” with Iran and endorsed by Tehran due to statements from Iran’s foreign ministry.
McCain, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and other Republicans said last week that they were blocking Hagel’s nomination because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was rushing his confirmation.
They insisted that the move was not a filibuster, however, and said that once the full Senate had the recess week to look over Hagel’s record, they would vote to a proceed with an up-or-down final vote.
“I think it’s appropriate to wait until we come back,” McCain said last week. “I think there’s plenty of time to have any further questions answered and I intend to vote for cloture then. ... He’d certainly get mine and a number of others.”
Now Inhofe is calling for Republicans to block Hagel by opposing the cloture vote, rather than just delaying the confirmation. Inhofe has also called for a 60-vote threshold to clear Hagel.
“I know the Senate has traditionally deferred to the President on Cabinet nominations. However, our nation is at war,” Inhofe wrote. “The Senate must insist on confirming only the most effective leaders, not only to keep our nation safe, but to ensure our service members receive the leadership they deserve.
Inhofe laid out his concerns with Hagel in the letter on nuclear issues, Israel, Iran and the Pentagon budget.
Inhofe was also one of 15 GOP senators on a letter to Obama Thursday from Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) urging the White House to withdraw Hagel’s nomination.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said Thursday that the White House will “absolutely not” withdraw Hagel.
“Any suggestion to the contrary might have been found in the minutes of the meetings of the Friends of Hamas,” Carney said, making light of a conservative media report that alleged Hagel had ties to the fake group.
Democrats and the White House blasted the GOP block on Hagel, accusing Republicans of playing politics and harming national security in the process.
The cloture vote on Hagel last week was one vote short of getting the necessary 60 votes, as four Republicans — Sens. Thad Cochran (Miss.), Mike Johanns (Neb.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Susan Collins (Maine) — joined Democrats in favor of ending debate. Reid changed his vote to no for procedural reasons.
Cochran and Johanns have said they will vote for Hagel, and a third Republican, Sen. Richard Shelby (Ala.), said Thursday he is supporting Hagel as well.
Collins said last week she was opposed to Hagel’s nomination but would vote for cloture, and Murkowski has not said how she will vote.
Republicans wanted the delay over the recess because of requests for additional financial information over Hagel’s compensation and paid speeches.
McCain and Graham had also threatened to block Hagel over questions they wanted the White House to answer on Benghazi, but they received a letter from the administration ahead of the vote.
Nevertheless, they said they were voting against cloture because their colleagues still had unanswered questions.
Updated at 5:45 p.m.