Chuck Hagel passed the first major test on his way to becoming the nation’s next defense secretary when the Senate Armed Services Committee voted on Tuesday to send his nomination to the full Senate for approval.
Despite Republican opposition, Democrats say they have enough votes to confirm the twice-wounded Vietnam combat veteran who used to sit on the other side of the aisle.
Senate Republicans have lambasted their former colleague over his past statements and votes on Israel, Iran, Iraq, and nuclear weapons. Reports about Iranian leaders praising Hagel’s nomination caused at least one new senator to suggest he might not have been honest about his ties to foreign governments.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said the only way the panel could know whether Hagel ever took money from “extreme and radical groups” was for him to provide information on the compensation he had received from speeches during the last five years, three more than he’s required to give.
Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., defended Cruz’s statements, but Democrats angrily denounced the questions as crossing a line.
“You basically have impugned the patriotism of the nominee” with suggestions that he is cozy with Iran, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said. “You also stated your opinion that you don’t think he’s truthful. Those are two fairly strong statements.”
Inhofe reminded the panel Hagel had what amounted to Iran’s endorsement.
“You can’t get any cozier than that,” he said.
Although he voted against Hagel’s nomination, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said no one should question his honesty: “Sen. Hagel is an honorable man. No one on this committee should impugn his character and integrity.”
Republicans have suggested they might attempt to filibuster the nomination, but Democrats have enough votes to win approval. All 55 Senate Democrats have pledged support for Hagel. Two Republicans—Sens. Thad Cochran of Mississippi and Mike Johanns of Nebraska—also plan to vote in his favor.
But even his supporters aren’t fully satisfied with President Barack Obama’s choice to head the Defense Department. Hagel’s halting testimony during his confirmation hearing prompted some to suggest he should be more animated.
Republican’s fear he is unprepared for the job:
“The next secretary of defense will deal with a world on fire, and the testimony of Sen. Hagel was not reassuring,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.