WASHINGTON — A group of 15 Republican senators insisted Thursday that President Barack Obama withdraw the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be defense secretary, the latest move in a contentious battle to block the confirmation of their former colleague.
But even as Republican senators tried to throw up another obstacle, Senate Democrats said they were pushing ahead with plans to hold a final up-or-down vote on the nomination no later than Wednesday.
Should that vote proceed as planned, Hagel’s confirmation appears assured. Several Republicans have said that they intend to drop their attempts to filibuster the nomination.
But given how deeply divided Hagel’s nomination has left the Senate, the outlook in the immediate term is murky.
Many Republicans, like the 15 who wrote to the president Thursday, signaled that they would not let the issue die quietly. And those who have said that they would ultimately not support a filibuster, like Deb Fischer of Nebraska and Richard Shelby of Alabama, were leaving the door open to further delay.
Saying that Hagel’s confirmation would be “unprecedented” because of near-unanimous opposition from Republicans, the group of 15 senators urged Obama to pick another candidate.
“Over the last half-century, no secretary of defense has been confirmed and taken office with more than three senators voting against him,” they wrote. “The occupant of this critical office should be someone whose candidacy is neither controversial or divisive.”
Signing the letter were John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Senate Republican; Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott of South Carolina; Roger Wicker of Mississippi; David Vitter of Louisiana; Ted Cruz of Texas; Mike Lee of Utah; Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania; Marco Rubio of Florida; Dan Coats of Indiana; Ron Johnson of Wisconsin; James E. Risch of Idaho; John Barrasso of Wyoming; and Tom Coburn and James Inhofe of Oklahoma.
Members of the group cited a litany of objections, including Hagel’s unimpressive showing at his confirmation hearing, which drew criticism from members of both parties, and what they said was his “dangerous” posture toward dealing with Iran.
The level of derision directed at Hagel from Republicans has been striking not just because defense secretaries are usually confirmed on a simple up-or-down vote but also because Hagel served with many of them in the Senate until 2008.