WASHINGTON — The Senate Armed Services Committee voted to approve the nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense.
The Tuesday vote was cast along party lines, with the committee’s 14 Democrats voting yes, and 11 Republicans voting no. The twelfth Republican on the committee, Sen. David Vitter, was not present for the vote and had not left instructions for a proxy.
A number of committee members lamented the partisan nature of the vote on a committee whose members are clearly proud of its bipartisan tradition.
The hearing itself grew quite contentious after Sen. Ted Cruz, a new member, objected to the fact that Hagel had not provided information to the committee that had been requested by Republicans. Cruz suggested that had such evidence been provided, it might prove conflicts of interest for the defense secretary nominee.
Sen. Levin dismissed what he called Cruz’s “innuendo” unsupported by evidence, and said the nominee had provided all the information that the committee required of nominees. He said that changing the requirements for Sen. Hagel would be unfair.
Sen. Bill Nelson then went on to dress down Cruz for having “gone over the line” and “impugned” Hagel’s “patriotism,” something he said defied the “comity and civility that this committee has always been known for.”
The ranking Republican on the committee, Sen. Jim Inhofe, defended Cruz, saying that Iran had endorsed Hagel — “can’t get cozier than that,” he said.
Sen. John McCain, however, joined the pile-on.
“Sen. Hagel is an honorable man … and no one on this committee at any time should impugn his integrity,” he said, almost directly parroting Nelson’s words.
The nomination will now go to the full Senate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters earlier on Tuesday that he hoped to schedule the vote for later this week.
Many Republicans have raised severe doubts about Hagel, and Sen. Lindsey Graham said he would place a hold on the nomination. But Reid said Tuesday that he would not honor any requests to place a hold on Hagel’s nomination, meaning that Graham or any other senator would have to be physically on the Senate floor to raise objections when Reid calls the vote. If they do so, then 60 votes will be required to confirm Hagel’s nomination.