Democrats move to force vote on Hagel appointment
In a sign of the increasingly bitter divisions in the US Congress and dysfunctional nature of American politics, Democratic senators accused Republicans of escalating obstructionist tactics and moved to force a vote on Barack Obama’s nomination of Chuck Hagel to become his next secretary of defence.
Despite being endorsed by the Senate armed services committee following Mr Hagel’s poor performance at a confirmation hearing two weeks ago, Republicans have demanded further information on the president’s nominee before allowing an overall Senate vote on Mr Hagel to proceed.
The Democratic majority leader in the Senate, Harry Reid of Nevada, started procedures on Wednesday to begin the confirmation debate on Mr Hagel that would lead to a vote, cutting off conservative Republicans from using a potential filibuster to block a vote through lengthy debate.
Democrats hold a 55-45 advantage in the Senate but don’t have the 60-vote threshold to stop the Republican filibuster to end the debate on Mr Hagel and proceed to a vote.
Senator Reid expressed disappointment that he had to take the unprecedented step of filing a motion to seek the votes to secure the confirmation of a nominee to the president’s cabinet.
“This is the first time in the history of our country that a presidential nominee for secretary of defence has been filibustered,” said Mr Reid. “What a shame, but that’s the way it is.”
Republican hawks including senators John McCain from Arizona and Lindsey Graham from South Carolina have stirred up tensions with the Democrats by seeking more information about the response to the attack on the US diplomatic base at Benghazi in Libya on September 11th, 2012.
They have asked the president to explain whether he requested help from the Libyan government during the eight-hour attack in which ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans died.
“There seems to not be much interest to hold this president accountable for a national security breakdown that led to the first ambassador being killed in the line of duty in over 30 years,” said Mr Graham. “No, the debate on Chuck Hagel is not over. It has not been serious.”
The nomination as CIA director of John Brennan, the son of Irish immigrants, is also being delayed as the Senate intelligence committee has postponed a vote after senators demanded more details on US drone attacks and the Benghazi raid. Senator Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky, said he intended to block Mr Brennan’s appointment until he answered his questions on the legality of the Obama administration’s drone operations.
Charles Tiefer, University of Baltimore law professor, said the Republican blocking of Mr Hagel’s confirmation reflected how divided Congress was.
“It used to be the tradition that presidents had a honeymoon period after their election or re-election when the Senate would let them put their team in place,” he said. “The wedding feast is still fresh while the funeral pyre for the president is being lit up.”