Defense & National Security

Do Senate Republicans have the votes to block Hagel?

Do Senate Republicans have the votes to block Hagel?

Senate Republicans have their pick of reasons to oppose Chuck Hagel’s nomination for Secretary of Defense: his leniency regarding a nuclear Iran, his past opposition to troop surges in both Iraq and Afghanistan, a pattern of statements showing discomfort with the intensity of U.S. support for Israel.

And there’s more: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has questioned Hagel’s stance on reopening trade with Cuba, and a review of the former Nebraska senator’s statements on non-defense matters appears to reveal a bias against homosexuals and Todd Akin-esque views on a negative correlation between rape and pregnancy.

With the Senate in recess until after the Jan. 21 presidential inauguration, what’s not clear is whether enough Republicans and concerned Democrats can coalesce to overthrow a presidential cabinet nomination for the first time in nearly 25 years.

The Senate Armed Services Committee, the panel responsible for holding Hagel’s confirmation hearings, houses some of most vocal opponents of his nomination.

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) made his position clear shortly following President Barack Obama’s nomination of Hagel, citing his opposition to the move and calling Hagel’s positions on the middle east “troubling.”

Six other committee Republicans have gone on the record to oppose Hagel or acknowledge their concern with him as the prospective head of the DoD, including new ranking member Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), brand-new freshman Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who faulted the president with picking a partisan fight in his choice of nominee.

Recent former members of the committee, including Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Sen. John. Cornyn (R-Texas) have also made clear statements opposing Hagel.

The numbers dictate that Hagel’s nomination will be approved within the Committee, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 14-12 and chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) has given Hagel his unequivocal support.

A Republican Senate aide told Human Events that there were staff-level conversations taking place between a Hagel opponent and other members’ offices, but acknowledged the challenge of overcoming a formidable “drumbeat” of support from Democrats who backed Hagel.

With a 53-45 majority of Democrats in the Senate as a whole, Republican hope for overturning a Hagel nomination may rest with Democrats–likely those who take issue with his comments regarding Israel or his expressed views on homosexuality or abortion. Earlier this week, NBC political director Chuck Todd made a count of 10 Democrats who may vote no on confirmation, a long shot that would put Republicans over the top to overturn the nomination.

A better bet, though is a filibuster demand that would deny Hagel confirmation if he falls short of 60 votes–a number Republicans are in an easy position to deny. Still, many GOP senators have said they want to her Hagel speak for himself in hearings before deciding their own vote. So, the vote may be a down-to-the wire nail-biter–though the process, regardless of outcome, is likely to further drive a wedge between Obama and the Republican leaders he purports to work with.

“The only thing bipartisan about Chuck Hagel appears to be his opposition in Congress,” said a Senate aide, speaking to Human Events on background. “If President Obama was hoping to start the new Congress off with a spirit of cooperation, he has an odd way of showing it.”

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