McDonough: ‘Grave concern’ over Hagel, Brennan delays

White House chief of staff Denis McDonough on Sunday urged lawmakers to quickly confirm former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) and John Brennan to their posts in Obama’s national security team, expressing “grave concern” about the delays.

“We want to make sure that we have our -- those guys sitting in the chairs working, because I don't want there to have been something missed because of this hang-up here in Washington,” said McDonough in an interview on ABC’s “This Week.”

Senate Republicans blocked Hagel’s nomination for Defense secretary last week in a 58-40 vote. Hagel became the first ever Defense nominee filibustered, as GOP lawmakers raised objections to his policies toward Israel and Iran. 

Republicans including Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) have also threatened to hold up Brennan’s nomination to be CIA Director, demanding more information from the White House over its drone strike program and response to the Sept. 2012 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

McDonough, who was previously Obama’s deputy national security adviser, said he had worked with both men and praised their abilities. 

“If you look at Chuck Hagel, decorated war veteran himself, war hero.  Republican senator.  Somebody who over the course of the last many years, either as a Republican senator or as the chairman of the president's Intelligence Advisory Board, I've worked with very closely.  This guy has one thing in mind, how do we protect the country,” said McDonough. 

Republicans said last week after stalling Hagel’s confirmation that they need more time to clear the nomination and said they would consider a vote when the Senate returns later this month.

The White House and Senate Democrats have expressed confidence that Hagel will eventually be confirmed, but the delay has only highlighted the contentiousness of his selection. 

“I think it’s appropriate to wait until we come back,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) 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.” On Sunday, on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” McCain expressed confidence that Hagel would be confirmed eventually. 

The White House said last week that outgoing Defense secretary Leon Panetta would continue to serve until Hagel’s confirmation, with Panetta slated to attend a NATO summit later this month.