U.S. Senator John McCain, a vocal opponent of former Senator Chuck Hagel’s nomination as defense secretary, said yesterday that Republicans shouldn’t delay a vote any further.
“We will have a vote when we get back” from this week’s break for the Presidents Day holiday, the Arizona Republican told NBC’s “Meet the Press” program. Even though the nominee is “the most unimpressive that I’ve ever seen,” McCain said, “I’m confident that Senator Hagel will probably have the votes necessary.”
McCain is a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, which on a party-line vote last week sent the nomination to the full Senate for confirmation. He said the vote on Hagel would be held even though he thinks that the Nebraska Republican’s views are “far to the left” of the mainstream and that his former colleague hasn’t explained his policy ideas well enough.
Senate Democrats have scheduled a confirmation vote for Feb. 26. Republicans blocked a Feb. 14 vote, the first time the minority party has threatened to filibuster a nominee to head the Pentagon, because there hadn’t been enough time for the White House to answer questions about the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, McCain said.
Hagel, 66, who served two terms in the Senate, has faced challenges from members of his own party because of his past opposition to unilateral sanctions against Iran, his comment in 2006 about the influence of what he called “the Jewish lobby,” and his statements against the U.S. troop buildup in 2007 that hastened the end of the Iraq war.
Even as McCain predicted Hagel’s confirmation, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina stepped up his criticism of the nominee.
“You’re talking about a person whose voting record shows softness on Iran and antagonism toward Israel beyond belief,” Graham said on the “Fox News Sunday” program. “He’d be the most antagonistic senator toward the state of Israel in history.”
Graham, who also serves on the Armed Services Committee, said on Feb. 11 that he would block confirmation votes for Hagel and for John Brennan, President Barack Obama’s choice to head the Central Intelligence Agency, until senators had received more detailed information about the Benghazi attack, which left four people dead, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
McCain said there were still unanswered questions about what the president did the night of the attack, as well as why then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wasn’t aware of how vulnerable the mission was.
Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” one of three Sunday news shows on which he appeared, the new White House chief of staff, Denis McDonough, expressed confidence that the dispute over Benghazi would be resolved soon. The administration has already sent detailed written responses to lawmakers’ questions, he said. In addition, there have been 20 congressional briefings, he said, and more than 10,000 pages of documents have been provided.
“The president is not done with Benghazi,” McDonough said. “He’s demanded of us, since that night, to find out exactly what happened, and to make every reform needed to ensure it does not happen again.”
On another Obama priority, gun control, McCain said that legislation requiring universal background checks backed by Senators Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican, and Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, may gain enough support in the Senate to pass.
Their proposal is intended to close the so-called gun-show loophole. Under current law, purchases at such shows currently don’t fall under requirements for checks of criminal records or mental-health histories.
“I applaud their efforts,” McCain said. “We want to do everything we can to prevent guns from falling into the hands of people who are mentally unbalanced or criminals.”
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