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Sen. Susan Collins of Maine on Wednesday announced that she would oppose Chuck Hagel’s confirmation to be the next Defense secretary but would not support a filibuster of the nominee.
Collins’ announcement, made one day after the Armed Services Committee approved the controversial pick for the next Pentagon chief along party lines, could hurt the White House’s odds of getting significant GOP support for the former Republican senator from Nebraska.
But several Republicans have said they don’t plan to block a vote on the Senate floor.
Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., filed cloture Wednesday afternoon, setting up a Friday vote on whether or not to proceed on the nomination. He said he was unable to reach an agreement with Republicans on holding a vote.
“It’s the first time in the history of our country that a presidential nominee for the secretary of Defense has been filibustered,” he said. “What a shame. But that’s the way it is.”
Collins’ announcement came after an unusually contentious Armed Services Committee meeting. The session got quite heated, with Texas Republican Ted Cruz suggesting Hagel may have been paid for speeches by money from dubious foreign sources. That accusation prompted heated retorts from several Democrats on the panel, including Bill Nelson of Florida, who lectured Cruz on using “comity and civility” on the committee.
Collins is no longer a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, but her position on Hagel could sway the votes of other moderate Republicans who have remained on the fence about the nominee.
Last month, Collins met with Hagel for 90 minutes, with the conversation ranging from military sexual assault to Iran. Hagel addressed many of her concerns, but Collins was among many lawmakers who remained undecided after his lackluster Jan. 31 confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
In a lengthy statement, Collins counted Hagel’s previous positions on Iran sanctions among her primary reasons for voting against his confirmation, adding that his installation as Defense secretary “would send the wrong message at the wrong time” about the resolve of the United States.
“I am unable to support Sen. Hagel to be the next secretary of Defense because I do not believe his past positions, votes, and statements match the challenges of our time, and his presentations at his hearing did nothing to ease my doubts,” Collins said. “I regret having to reach that conclusion given our personal relationship and my admiration for Sen. Hagel’s military service. But I have concluded that he is not well suited for the tremendous challenges our country faces during this dangerous era in our history.”
Several Republicans have asked for more time to vet Hagel’s financial disclosures and recent speeches.
James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, the top Republican on Armed Services, said he would insist on a 60-vote threshold for the floor vote, while Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina suggested he would place a hold on the nomination until the Obama administration releases more information about last year’s fatal attack on a U.S. facility in Benghazi, Libya.
Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire joined Graham to write a letter Tuesday to President Barack Obama asking whether, during the attack, he personally spoke “with any officials in the Libyan government to request assistance for our American personnel.”
McCain said Wednesday they still had not received an answer from the White House, but he expects to receive one. If they get their questions answered, McCain and Graham are expected to vote for cloture, even though they oppose Hagel’s confirmation.
With Collins also supporting a cloture vote, Senate Democrats appear to have enough support to invoke cloture on the nomination, assuming the Benghazi questions are answered. Sens. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, the top Republican on the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, and Mike Johanns of Nebraska have also said they will support Hagel’s confirmation.
Sarah Chacko and Emily Cadei contributed to this report.