WASHINGTON, Feb. 21 (UPI) -- The White House Thursday rejected a demand by 15 U.S. senators to withdraw the nomination former Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb.
Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, and 14 other Republican senators said in an open letter to President Barack Obama it would be "unprecedented for a secretary of defense to take office without the broad base of bipartisan support and confidence needed to serve effectively in this critical position."
Congressional Democrats and the White House accused the senators who signed the letter of harming national security while playing politics with the nomination, The Hill reported.
Conservative media and some members of Congress who have suggested Hagel is not sufficiently supportive of Israel have demanded he turn over records of speaking fees he may have received from organizations considered hostile to Israel. A New York reporter says conservatives' suspicion that Hagel took money from Friends of Hamas grew out of "an obvious joke" -- and that there is no such organization.
"Any suggestion [that the White House would withdraw the nomination] might have been found in the minutes of the meetings of the Friends of Hamas," Carney told White House reporters Thursday.
One of the letter's signers -- Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma -- wrote to Senate colleagues Thursday urging them to vote against ending Senate debate on the nominations, The Hill reported.
Several top Senate conservatives -- including John McCain of Arizona, Thad Cochran of Mississippi and Mike Johanns of Nebraska -- have said they will vote to end debate, effectively voting in favor of the nomination. They were joined Thursday by Republican Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama.