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Hagel critics favor up-or-down vote over filibuster

| Monday, Feb. 4, 2013, 6:38 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Republican Sen. John McCain, a sharp critic of Chuck Hagel's nomination as Defense secretary, said on Monday he will not support a filibuster of President Obama's pick, even though he declined to say whether he intends to vote for confirmation.

“I do not believe a filibuster is appropriate, and I would oppose such a move,” McCain said, two days after Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell raised the possibility.

In the fiercest exchange of Hagel's confirmation hearing last week, McCain questioned the nominee about the Iraq war and whether he was right or wrong in opposing an additional 30,000 troops in 2007. The Arizona senator said he still has questions on the nomination and “was not happy with (Hagel's) failure to answer a really simple question.”

But McCain insisted he would not support use of the filibuster, a procedural tactic that can derail a confirmation vote and can be stopped only by the votes of 60 of the 100 senators.

In an interview over the weekend, McConnell gave Hagel a poor grade for his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee and said opposition to the former Republican senator leading the Pentagon was growing.

“Whether that means he will end up having to achieve 60 votes or 51 is not clear yet,” the Kentucky senator, who is seeking re-election, said Saturday at the opening of his campaign headquarters in Louisville.

Hagel seemed ill-prepared under withering cross-examination from committee Republicans in nearly eight hours of testimony on Thursday. He was repeatedly pressed about statements and votes on Israel, Iran and nuclear weapons, with GOP lawmakers suggesting he wasn't sufficiently supportive of Israel or anti-Iran.

Senate Democrats, who hold the majority, continue to stand behind the nomination, and no Democrat has said he or she would vote against the president's pick for his second-term national security team. Hagel, 66, is a decorated Vietnam combat veteran who served two terms as Nebraska senator.

About a dozen Republicans have said they will oppose their former colleague, and several others have indicated they are likely to vote no.

Democrats hold a 55-45 advantage in the Senate, and two Republicans have announced their support for Hagel — Sens. Thad Cochran of Mississippi and Mike Johanns of Hagel's home state of Nebraska. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., a member of the leadership, said he would oppose Hagel but would not back a filibuster.

McConnell's failure to rule out a filibuster marks the first time the leader has suggested it could be an option. In the past, when Republicans occupied the White House, GOP senators have argued strenuously that nominees should get an up-or-down Senate vote, especially Cabinet picks.

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