On a party-line vote, former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) moved out of the Senate Armed Services Committee moments ahead and headed to a vote in the full Senate.
The vote was 14-11, with Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) present at the meeting — and arguing against Hagel — but not there for the vote. Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) left the vote open for 10 minutes to give Vitter a chance to come back.
This gives President Obama some of his favored talking points about partisanship at tonight’s State of the Union address, but it doesn’t mean that his nominee is home-free. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has threatened to block both Hagel and CIA director nominee John Brennan over Benghazi. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has said he doesn’t favor a filibuster — a line the White House has liked to repeat — but stressed “I do not believe that we should move forward with his nomination” with outstanding questions about the Libya attack.
“Some members of this committee strongly oppose President Obama’s foreign policy,” Levin said at the opening of the meeting. “Regardless how we may feel about the President’s policies, however, our vote on Senator Hagel’s nomination will not change those policies. If there is a risk here, it is that the defeat of this nomination would leave the Department of Defense leaderless at a time when we face immense budgetary challenges and our military is engaged in combat operations overseas.”
Democrats and Republicans alike, though in different terms, agreed Hagel had a poor performance in his hearing before the Armed Services Committee. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) said she wished the nominee had been “feistier.”
Graham said he opposed Hagel because “there are very few people who have been this wrong about so many things.”
The vote on the nomination turned into a tangle between senators when Ted Cruz (R-Texas) questioned whether Hagel had gotten payments from “extreme and radical groups.” Levin told Cruz to come back with evidence.
“This senator feels like that Senator Cruz has gone over the line,” said Bill Nelson (D-Fla.). “He basically has impugned the patriotism of the nominee.”
“I just want to make it clear: Senator Hagel is an honorable man,” McCain said of his fellow Vietnam vet. “He has served his country and no one on this committee at any time should impugn his character or his integrity.”
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said he opposed Hagel because the former senator “has not shown himself to be the right person for the job.”
“Senator Hagel has complied only with the bare minimum required by the committee regarding certain funding sources for his activities, although there are still many troubling questions. Instead of following precedents set by other top level cabinet nominees, Senator Hagel has chosen to set up roadblocks,” Lee added.
Kim Jong-un showed up in a number of arguments for the nominee.
“Given the enormous national security challenges that await the next Secretary of Defense, including bringing our troops home from Afghanistan and responding to the unconscionable nuclear test by North Korea, the Senate should move quickly to vote on this nomination,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said.