WASHINGTON –Senator Mark Udall cast a key vote Tuesday for Chuck Hagel to serve as Secretary of Defense, commending the embattled nominee for his performance at his widely panned confirmation hearing 12 days ago.
The Colorado Democrat praised not only the credentials of President Obama’s pick to head the Pentagon, but also his testimony and the support of two senior members of the traditional defense establishment at the Jan. 31 confirmation hearing.
“He’s a patriot. He’s deserved to have two purple hearts. And he earned my vote after his testimony at his confirmation hearing,” Udall said at a meeting of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“The enduring image for me at his hearing has always been that he was flanked by Senators (Sam) Nunn and (John) Warner. Th(eir support) is good enough for me,” Udall said of the Georgia Democrat and Virginia Republican, both former senators and chairmen of the Armed Services panel.
Before the former Republican senator from Nebraska spoke at his confirmation hearing last month, Nunn and Warner endorsed him as a mainstream candidate for foreign and defense policy.
Udall’s’ support for Hagel’s nomination Tuesday was not a surprise. Udall’s office released a statement after his confirmation hearing that signaled he would support him.
Yet Udall cited different reasons for supporting Hagel’s nomination than many of his Democratic colleagues.
Udall was the lone Democrat who said Hagel’s performance at his confirmation hearing was a reason to support him. Most of Udall’s Democratic colleagues on the panel suggested that Hagel’s demeanor and statements at the nine-hour hearing were sluggish and incomplete.
Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire said she wished Hagel had been “much feistier;” Senator Angus King of Maine, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, said the nominee was “not as forceful as he might have been;” and Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia called Hagel’s performance “less than stellar.”
Udall was not present for more than half of the 140-minute afternoon hearing and spoke for less than a minute about Hagel’s nomination. Mike Saccone, a spokesman for Udall, said the senator attended the Senate Select Intelligence Committee’s closed hearing on CIA Director nominee John Brennan.
All 12 Senate Republicans on the Armed Services Committee said “no” when asked if Hagel’s nomination should proceed to the Senate. Senators James Inhofe of Oklahoma asked that the vote be delayed, while Lindsey Graham of South Carolina had threatened to filibuster the bid.
Defense hawks have objected to Hagel’s previous statements that suggested the United States should eliminate its nuclear stockpile unilaterally and vote to oppose President Bush’s military “surge” in 2007.
“What surprises me is not that this group holds this position. What surprises me is this position is held by the (possible next) secretary of defense,” Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama said of the organization Global Zero, which Hagel had served as a board member.
The Senate is expected to vote on Hagel’s nomination Wednesday or Thursday. If he wins enough support in the upper chamber, he would be the first enlisted man to serve as head of the Pentagon.