Alabama Republican Sen. Richard C. Shelby now appears ready to vote Tuesday to limit debate on the nomination and confirm Chuck Hagel as Defense secretary.
Shelby’s intention to support Hagel was confirmed by spokesman Jonathan Graffeo. The senator, a senior member of the Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, told the Decatur Daily this week that Hagel is the best candidate for the job likely to be nominated by President Barack Obama.
“Barring any unforeseen surprises prior to the vote, Sen. Shelby intends to support the Hagel nomination (cloture and final passage),” Graffeo wrote in an email.
The confirmation of Shelby’s position came as 15 other GOP senators including John Cornyn of Texas, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, sent a letter to Obama asking that he withdraw Hagel’s nomination because it lacks broad bipartisan support.
Shelby and all but four other Republicans ensured a cloture motion last week that would have limited debate on the nomination and set the stage for a vote on confirmation would fall short of the 60 necessary votes. That vote was 58-40 with Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., switching his vote to nay so that he could move for reconsideration. Barring new revelations, a different outcome is expected on another cloture vote scheduled for Tuesday. That would allow a final vote on the nomination, with a simple majority needed for confirmation.
Republican senators said last week they were delaying a confirmation vote until they received Hagel’s answers to additional questions about the former senator’s paid speaking engagements during the last five years, and more information from the administration about last September’s attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
The failed cloture vote represented the first time in history a Defense secretary nominee had been successfully filibustered. Former Texas Sen. John Tower’s nomination to become Defense secretary under President George H.W. Bush was defeated outright on the Senate floor.
Those outside the Senate who were agitating against Hagel’s confirmation saw the delay as an opportunity to turn up past statements Hagel might have made that would support their contention that he is not a strong supporter of Israel and that he is too tolerant of the Iranian government and organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah. To date, there have been no revelations.
No Democrats appear to have wavered in support of the nomination. Republicans Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mike Johanns of Nebraska, Thad Cochran of Mississippi and Susan Collins of Maine all voted for cloture, while Orrin G. Hatch of Utah voted present.