Senate's top Democrat hits Republicans for blocking Hagel

Chuck Hagel
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The Senate's top Democrat says Republicans are mounting a full-scale filibuster of Chuck Hagel's nomination to be President Barack Obama's secretary of defense.

Majority Leader Harry Reid says Thursday there has never been a filibuster of a secretary of defense in the country's history.

The Nevada senator says it's "shocking" and "tragic" that Republicans would block Hagel's nomination.

Reid filed a motion Wednesday to limit debate and force a vote on Hagel's nomination, which is expected to be held Friday. While Democrats hold a 55-45 edge in the Senate and have the numbers to confirm Hagel on a majority vote, they need the backing of five Republicans to clear the way for an up-or-down vote on him.

The Senate Armed Services Committee approved Hagel's nomination on a 14-11 party line vote Tuesday after an angry two-hour debate.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) argued that approving the former Nebraska senator as defence secretary will make military conflict more likely because Iran will be encouraged to develop nuclear weapons. Cruz took some flak for implying that Hagel may have received payment for speeches to what he calls "extreme or radical groups." Other senators accused Cruz of going over the line.

"Indeed we saw with his nomination something truly extraordinary which is the government of Iran formally and publicly praising the nomination of a defense secretary. I would suggest to you that to my knowledge that it unprecedented to see a foreign nation like Iran publicly celebrating a nomination. And on the merits in my view if Chuck Hagel is confirmed it will make military conflict in the next 4 years substantially more likely," Cruz said.

"We do not know for example if he received compensation for giving paid speeches at extreme or radical groups. Now in my view, given the two letters he received, it is a far inference to assume that he and those handling his nomination assembled that information, assembled his compensation, and the only reasonable inference I think is when they assembled it there was something in there that they did not want to make public. It may be that he spoke at radical or extreme groups or anti-Israel groups and accepted financial compensation, we don't know," Cruz added.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FLA) sharply criticized Cruz for those comments.

"I want to put on the record that this senator feels like Senator Cruz has gone over the line. He basically has impugned the patriotism of the nominee in your conclusions, which you are entitled to come to, about him in essence being cozy with Iran. And you have also stated your opinion that you don't think he has been truthful with this committee. Now those are two fairly strong statements," said Nelson.

A fellow Republican also stood up for Hagel.

"I just want to make it clear, Senator Hagel is an honorable man. He has served his country and no one on this committee at any time should impugn his character or his integrity," said Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).