WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Democrats are pushing ahead with a vote Tuesday on Chuck Hagel's nomination to be defense secretary, rejecting Republican demands for more financial information from Hagel in a politically charged fight over President Barack Obama's second-term national security team.
In a brief statement, Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said the panel would meet Tuesday afternoon with the "intention to vote on the nomination after the members have an opportunity for discussion." Levin had hoped to hold a committee vote last Thursday, but postponed it amid growing complaints from Republicans.
Levin's opposition to Republican calls for more of Hagel's personal finances and his intent to hold a vote got a strong endorsement from the panel's former top Republican — Sen. John McCain.
The Arizona lawmaker said in a statement on Monday that Hagel had fulfilled the panel's rigorous requirements on information and a vote should occur. McCain said he still had concerns about Hagel's national security positions and declined to say how he would vote.
"I believe it is appropriate for the Armed Services Committee to vote on Senator Hagel's nomination and determine whether to move this nomination to the Senate floor where members can debate and express their own judgments on Senator Hagel," said McCain, who also rejected any GOP protest of the vote.
"I will not participate in any walkout of tomorrow's committee vote — an action that would be disrespectful to Chairman Levin and at odds with the best traditions of the Senate Armed Services Committee," McCain said.
Obama tapped Hagel, 66, a former two-term Nebraska Republican senator and twice-wounded combat veteran in Vietnam, to succeed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who is stepping down after serving as CIA director and Pentagon chief in the president's first term.
Democrats hold a 14-12 edge on the Armed Services panel and it's likely that Hagel will win approval on a party-line vote just hours before Obama delivers his State of the Union address at the Capitol.
The committee is deeply divided over the nominee, with Democrats backing the president's choice and Republicans pressing for more information about Hagel's finances and foreign donors to organizations that he has been affiliated with since leaving the Senate in 2009. Two Republicans on the committee — Sens. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina — have threatened to use their power to stop the nomination.
"I would threaten to cause a 60-vote margin; yes I would. If it took a filibuster, I'd do it that way," Inhofe, the top Republican on the committee, told "Fox News" on Sunday. Graham signaled that he would hold up Senate confirmation of Hagel and CIA Director-designate John Brennan if he doesn't get more answers about the fatal assault on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, last month.
Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the Sept. 11 attack.
"We're going to get to the bottom of Benghazi," Graham said on CBS' "Face the Nation."
All 55 Democrats are expected to back Hagel and two Republicans — Sens. Thad Cochran of Mississippi and Mike Johanns of Nebraska — have said they will vote for the nominee. At least four Republicans have said they would oppose a filibuster of the nomination of the president's Cabinet pick, ensuring that the Hagel nomination has at least 60 votes to move forward.
In a letter on Friday, Levin had rejected Republican demands for financial information as beyond the scope for nominees, Republican and Democrat, as has been required for nearly 30 years of nominees.
"The committee cannot have two different sets of financial disclosure standards for nominees, one for Sen. Hagel and one for other nominees," the Michigan Democrat wrote.
His letter was in response to a letter from 26 Senate Republicans to Hagel insisting that they needed more information before they could vote on his nomination. Among those signing the GOP letter were Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Inhofe.
Republicans have asked Hagel to disclose all compensation of more than $5,000 from the past five years — three years more than the law or committee rules require. Levin said the panel's two-year requirement on disclosure is consistent with the Ethics in Government Act as well as past practices for all nominees for Senate-confirmed positions and candidates for federal office.
Specifically, the Republican senators want Hagel to disclose whether any of the eight organizations and businesses he was affiliated with after leaving the Senate received money from foreign sources.
But Hagel has already told the committee that neither he nor his wife has received during the last 10 years any compensation from, or been involved in any business transactions with, a foreign government or an entity controlled by a foreign government, Levin wrote.