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Bipartisan Comity Fraying on Defense Panel

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Inhofe, left, took over as the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services panel after McCain, and committee Democrats have rebuked Inhofe for his more partisan approach.

Levin responded tersely: The precedent which would be set here would be by your unilaterally changing these rules that we have followed. If this nominee or any other nominee wishes to respond to your request, which goes beyond the rules, theyre free to do so. But were not going to accept a change in the rules that applies to one nominee.

Levin then said, We are not going to accept your suggestion and innuendo that there is some kind of a conflict of interest here because there is not evidence of a conflict of interest.

On Wednesday, after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., filed for cloture on Hagels nomination, setting up a Friday vote, Levin took the unusual step of scolding Cruz on the Senate floor. Cruzs accusation, Levin said, is offensive to those of us who have served with him and is beneath the dignity of the United States Senate.

Appealing to Courtesy

As ranking member emeritus, McCain appears to be trying to maintain some of the comity that used to be the norm for the Armed Services panel.

In a statement issued earlier in the week, McCain called out some members of the panel who might be considering a walkout of the executive meeting. In an extraordinary comment, McCain said such a gesture would be disrespectful to Levin.

Later, in an interview, Levin said he appreciated McCains statement.

I thought McCains comment was very appreciated but very much in keeping with the spirit, the bipartisan spirit, of this committee, he said. I think every member of the committee realizes there is going to be differences over issues, and the importance of our work is too great to allow differences over issues to seep into clashes over personality. Were not going to let it happen.

These comments were made, however, before the executive meeting.

Inhofe also insisted that he and Levin have worked well together and that these recent conflicts are more coincidental to the issues the panel has had to wrestle with at the outset of the legislative year. His aides also point to Inhofes tenure as ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, when he was able to work with California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer to deliver bipartisan bills to the Senate floor.

But Inhofes propensity for controversial statements has elicited visceral responses from Democrats, and Tuesdays executive meeting was no different.

Id say hes endorsed by Iran, Inhofe said of Hagel during the meeting. You cant get any cozier than that.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., when given the chance, addressed Inhofe directly. Ive got to tell you, Sen. Inhofe, be careful because you might have an organization endorse you that you find abhorrent, she said. And then ... would I have the right to say you were cozy with them? What if some horrible organization said that you were the best guy they knew?

Out of Balance

Dozens of times throughout the hearing, lawmaker after lawmaker cited the panels history of bipartisanship, but each such note served as a signal that all was not smooth among the lawmakers.

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