News Analysis: Hagel likely to be next U.S. Defense Secretary despite GOP stalling tactics

2013-02-15 23:34:50 GMT2013-02-16 07:34:50(Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

by Matthew Rusling

WASHINGTON, Feb. 15 (Xinhua) -- Former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel is likely to be confirmed as the next U.S. Defense Secretary despite Republicans' attempts to stall the nomination process with procedural hurdles, experts said.

"The Hagel nomination is not dead," said Brookings Institution senior fellow Darrell West. "I expect him to be confirmed soon."

Senate Republicans on Thursday blocked a vote on Hagel's nomination, demanding the White House provide more information on September's terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya that left four Americans dead, including the ambassador.

Republicans charge the White House with not being forthcoming over the incident and with misleading the public about whether the attack was spontaneous or an organized terror operation.

"The Senate will vote again in two weeks and the nominee is likely to get the 60 votes needed to cut off debate and move forward with the nomination," West said, describing the GOP's tactics as "nomination theater designed to make Hagel and ( President Barack) Obama look bad but not to derail the confirmation."

The White House on Thursday blasted the GOP move, with Spokesman Jay Carney charging Senate Republicans with putting " political posturing ahead of our nation's security," noting that the filibuster of a Defense Secretary nominee is a historical first.

The fiasco is the latest round of controversy that erupted last month when Republicans charged the decorated Vietnam War veteran with being too soft on hot-button issues such as Iran, as he has opposed U.S.-led sanctions on the Islamic Republic. He also stirred the ire of former Senate colleague and 2008 presidential contender John McCain for opposing the 2007 troop surge in Iraq.

Hagel took a tongue lashing at a Senate confirmation hearing last month when McCain tore into Hagel for his 2007 statement that the surge would be "the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam."

"The opposition to Senator Hagel comes from both his increasingly maverick reputation and repudiation of the GOP, as well as his strong stances on some issues that have been considered politically sacrosanct in the U.S.," said Dan Mahaffee, an analyst with the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, where Hagel is a trustee.

He added that in the past, Secretaries of Defense have been confirmed without much opposition, as the individuals have generally been well-respected and have a strong bipartisan background.

The sole exception during the modern presidency was former Senator John Tower, who was appointed by President George H.W. Bush in 1989 but rejected due to allegations concerning his personal conduct, such as supposed womanizing and alcohol abuse.

"It would be devastating for future relations if Republicans block the Hagel nomination," West said. "Presidents almost always get their Cabinet choices confirmed...It will be very difficult for future relationships if Hagel is not confirmed."

The Hagel spat comes amid continuing partisan rivalry which has been a hallmark of U.S. Congress since President Obama's election four years ago.

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