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Hagel on track to win confirmation as defense secretary

Published: Monday, Feb. 25, 2013 8:57 a.m. CDT

(MCT) — WASHINGTON — As Congress returns to Washington this week, Chuck Hagel appears on track to be confirmed as defense secretary by a deeply divided Senate.

Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who opposes the nomination, said Sunday that Hagel, who has enough support to win approval if Republicans abandon their delaying tactics, would get a confirmation vote. That vote could take place as early as Tuesday.

“I think it will happen barring some additional revelation concerning his comments about Israel and all those other really unfortunate things he’s said in the past,” McCain said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Hagel’s former Republican colleagues contend that he has been too critical of Israel and not critical enough of Iran. In addition, his support for some Democratic candidates has infuriated the GOP.

Before the Senate began its current, 10-day recess, Republicans succeeded in blocking a confirmation vote on the nomination of Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska, by forcing his supporters to find 60 votes. Democrats fell one short.

A majority of senators, virtually all of them Democrats, say they support Hagel’s confirmation.

Last week, 15 Republican senators — but not McCain — called on President Barack Obama to withdraw the nomination.

“I do not believe that Chuck Hagel, who is a friend of mine, is qualified to be secretary of defense,” McCain said Sunday. But he added, with a laugh, that he did not sign the letter because “I do believe that elections have consequences — unfortunately. And the president of the United States was re-elected.”

McCain, who lost to Obama in the 2008 presidential election, said he believes that presidents deserve a Senate vote on their Cabinet nominees. In that election, Hagel offered tacit support for Obama.

McCain was less definitive about the immediate prospects for the confirmation of John Brennan, the White House counterterrorism adviser nominated by Obama to head the CIA. McCain and other Republicans are demanding more information from the White House as a price for allowing the nomination to go forward. In particular, they want more detail about the administration’s response to the terrorist attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, last Sept. 11 that left four Americans dead, including the U.S. ambassador.

“We still don’t know who was rescued from the consulate in Benghazi,” McCain said. “We still don’t know who made up the talking points” that U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice discussed on the Sunday talk shows soon after the attack, which portrayed the attack as stemming from a protest against an anti-Islamic video.

“Mr. Brennan said that he was opposed to waterboarding and torture, but at the same time he said it has saved lives,” McCain continued. “I’d like to know what lives were saved, because the information that I have is it saved no one’s life, in fact it was a lot of misinformation.”

McCain was evasive when asked by host Candy Crowley if he would use Senate rules to block Brennan’s nomination.

“Well, you know, I think you examine your options when you decide on the information. But he needs to answer these questions. And they say, why now? It’s the only time we have the maximum leverage. That’s just a fact of life around Washington,” he said. “The American people deserve answers about Benghazi. There are so many questions that are still out there, including what was the president doing the night Benghazi happened.”

A close McCain ally, GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, has already threatened to block Brennan’s confirmation until the administration provides more information about the Libya incident.

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