“If this is not a filibuster, I’d like to see what a filibuster is,” Reid said.
While Republicans are not ready to move ahead on the nomination, Hagel will likely be cleared when senators return. McCain, who does not support Hagel’s nomination but is opposed to filibustering a Cabinet nominee, expressed optimism about finding a path forward Thursday. He said he wanted to hold off on a vote until he received more information from the White House on last year’s fatal attacks at a U.S. facility in Benghazi, Libya.
The White House’s response, dated Feb. 14, “largely satisfied my concerns about that, but other senators have other concerns,” McCain said. “I’m hopeful that we can work out agreement to have the vote as soon as we get back. I don’t believe that we need a 60-vote margin.”
Multiple Concerns From GOP
Republicans have offered a host of objections in recent days to confirming the former Nebraska Republican senator, including his views on Iran, Israel and the United States’ nuclear arsenal, as well as alleged gaps in his financial disclosures.
“We do have an obligation of advise and consent — a constitutional responsibility — and we’re trying to carry this out,” McCain said, noting that Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta was not being forced out.
Pentagon spokesman George Little said Thursday that Panetta will leave his post after Hagel is confirmed, “which the secretary hopes happens as quickly as possible.”
Democrats thought they had the votes to overcome a filibuster, but Reid’s statement accused Republicans of “moving the goal posts at the last minute” in terms of their demands for allowing the nominee to be voted on.
The Feb. 14 letter, signed by White House counsel Kathryn H. Ruemmler, is in response to a Feb. 12 letter from McCain, Graham and fellow Republican Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire asking whether President Barack Obama had been in touch with the Libyans on the day of the attack to discuss security in the country. In it, Ruemmler assures the senators that Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was then secretary of State, initially called Libyan President Mohamed Yusuf al-Magariaf on behalf of Obama “to coordinate additional support to protect Americans in Libya and access to Libyan territory.” Obama spoke with al-Magariaf the next day.
On Thursday, the White House pleaded for quick confirmation of Hagel.
“We urge the Republicans in the Senate to drop their delay,” spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters. “There is a clear majority in the United States Senate for Sen. Hagel’s confirmation. These delaying tactics are unconscionable, and they should end right away.”
Two Republicans — Cochran, the ranking member on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, and Johanns — have said they will support Hagel’s confirmation.
John M. Donnelly, Matt Fuller and Sarah Chacko contributed to this report.