White House blasts GOP on Hagel filibuster

Updated Feb. 14, 2013 at 5:52 PM
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WASHINGTON, Feb. 14 (UPI) -- U.S. Senate Republicans "put political posturing" over national security in blocking President Obama's nominee for defense secretary, the White House said.

Four Republicans voted with Democrats when the Senate voted 58-40 Thursday to move the nomination of Republican former U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel to a vote, but 60 votes were required to break the Republican filibuster.

"Today, Senate Republicans put political posturing ahead of our nation's security," the White House said in a statement. "For the first time in American history, Senate Republicans filibustered a nominee for secretary of defense -- a member of their own party, a decorated combat veteran, and the right leader for our troops."

The White House said a "clear majority" in the Senate support the nomination and the GOP filibuster "runs against both the majority will of the Senate and our nation's interest."

"This waste of time is not without consequence," the statement said. "We have 66,000 men and women deployed in Afghanistan, and we need our new Secretary of Defense to be a part of significant decisions about how we bring that war to a responsible end. Next week in Brussels, the United States will meet with our allies to talk about the transition in Afghanistan at the NATO Defense Ministerial, and our next secretary of defense should be there. With questions about the sequester looming over the Pentagon, our secretary of defense should be in place."

The White House called on Senate Republicans to "stop playing politics with our Department of Defense, and to move beyond the distractions and delay."

Republicans indicated they would allow the nomination to proceed after next week's recess, CNN reported.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said in a statement released by his office the Senate will vote Feb. 26 on moving the nomination forward.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Thursday blasted Republicans for blocking the nomination unless Obama releases more information on the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, Politico reported.

Reid said the issue is further complicated by the fact that the current secretary of defense, Leon Panetta, left his post Thursday afternoon.

"We do not have, at 12 o'clock today, a secretary of defense," Reid said. "It's tragic they've decided to filibuster this qualified nominee -- it is really unfortunate."

Panetta said he plans to stay on duty until Hagel is confirmed. Hagel, however, will likely be absent from a NATO meeting next week, during which the Afghanistan war will be discussed, The Hill reported.

"It does not send a favorable signal for Republicans in the United States Senate to delay a vote on the president's nominee, a nominee who's a member of their own party," White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters aboard Air Force One. "It's difficult to explain to our allies exactly why that's happening."

Earnest said Obama is standing behind Hagel's nomination.

"The president stands strongly behind Senator Hagel. The president believes that Senator Hagel would do a wonderful job in a very important role, which is leading the Department of Defense at a challenging time for our country," Earnest said.

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