WASHINGTON — The weeklong Senate recess gives outside interest groups opposed to Chuck Hagel's nomination to become defense secretary more time to sharpen their attack against President Barack Obama's choice. And they're not wasting any of it, promising to redouble their efforts to scour Hagel's record and to pressure senators to vote against him.
While Senate Republicans have succeeded in delaying a confirmation vote on Hagel's nomination, they signaled that they would eventually relent and allow an up-or-down vote after they return from their recess on Feb. 25. But that leaves an uncomfortable gap for Hagel and the White House, which doesn't want any surprises popping up that would further delay or possibly derail his confirmation. But the fuss has underscored a key dynamic: Even if Hagel is confirmed, his relations with House and Senate Republicans could be frostier than the Obama administration might have hoped.
"You need a strong secretary of defense, and I think through this process he's been weakened and it might be better to just go back to the drawing board," House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard "Buck" McKeon told reporters on Friday.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Friday that the delay was a political tactic and that Obama is still confident Hagel will be confirmed. "I wouldn't be surprised if there are additional politics that are injected into this circumstance," he said. "It is extremely unfortunate."
The GOP-leaning Americans for a Strong Defense plans to take full advantage of the lull. Spokesman Ryan Williams said the organization is stepping up a grass-roots campaign to flood Senate offices with calls from constituents who want to see Hagel's nomination rejected. It also will push for greater disclosure of financial information about Hagel's paid speeches and foreign donors to private organizations and businesses that the former Nebraska Republican lawmaker was affiliated with after he left the Senate.