From BBC - News -

Republicans Delay Vote on Chuck Hagel for Pentagon

Chuck Hagel

Republican Chuck Hagel, a former two-term senator from Nebraska and President Obama's choice to lead the Pentagon, testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Republican senators are delaying a vote to confirm President Obama's nominee for US secretary of defense.

They say questions remain about Senator Chuck Hagel, but have agreed to an up-or-down confirmation vote next week.

Mr Hagel's backers say the US military needs a leader in place while troops remain in Afghanistan and North Korea has just tested a nuclear device.

Mr Hagel, a former Republican Senator, would replace Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta if approved by the full Senate.

He was approved by the Senate armed services committee in a 14-11 vote along party lines on Tuesday.

'Never, ever'

Speaking on the floor of the Senate, Arizona Senator John McCain and South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham argued that more time was needed to answer outstanding questions about Mr Hagel.

They said they would be prepared to vote on the nomination when the Senate returned from a 10-day recess.

The Republicans have forced the delay with a parliamentary manoeuvre to block the Senate majority leader's move to end debate on Mr Hagel's nomination and proceed to an up-or-down vote on confirmation.

Even though the Democrats hold a majority of 55 votes, Senate rules in this case require them to come up with 60 to end debate and hold the final confirmation vote.

Mr Hagel's backers have warned of great risks in leaving the Pentagon without a leader at a time of budget challenges, while the US has troops in Afghanistan, and days after North Korea apparently detonated a nuclear device.

The White House said the Pentagon needed a leader at once, and that it would be difficult to explain the vacancy in a top cabinet post to America's allies.

"It also sends a signal to our men and women in uniform," White House spokesman Joshua Earnest said in a statement.

"We need our new defence secretary to be there."

Earlier, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said use of the delaying tactic, known as a filibuster, was "shocking" and "tragic".

"Not a single nominee for secretary of defense ever in the history of our country has been filibustered," he said. "Never, ever."

'Renegade'

One of Mr Hagel's leading critics in the Senate, Sen Graham, had vowed to block Mr Hagel's confirmation until he received more information from the White House about the 11 September attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

The White House says it has responded to Republican requests, and now Sen Graham and other critics say they need more time to consider Mr Hagel.

Mr Hagel, a decorated and twice-wounded veteran of the Vietnam War, served in the Senate for 12 years.

But correspondents say he is seen by some of his former colleagues as a renegade for breaking with Republican ranks on issues such as the Iraq War.

He has also been criticised during the confirmation process for comments he made years ago claiming "the Jewish lobby" had too much influence over American policy.

His remarks in 1998 that a nominee for an ambassadorial post was "openly, aggressively gay" have also raised eyebrows. Mr Hagel has since apologised for that comment.

Categories: Government, Politics