February 12, 2013

As expected, the Senate Armed Services Committee has voted, on a straight party-line vote, to send Chuck Hagel’s nomination to the full Senate.

President Obama and Chuck Hagel
President Obama and Chuck Hagel (Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP Photo)

The big news, though, was largely missed by casual observers: Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) left the door open, ever so slightly but nevertheless deliberately, to hold up Hagel’s nomination:

The key portion of McCain’s remarks was this: “I’m somewhat disturbed to hear that today there’s two more speeches that [Hagel] had not reported, that maybe just surfaced. And yet at the same time I believe he has complied. I do not believe that we should move forward with his nomination until questions are answered that Senator Graham and Senator Ayotte and I have asked to be answered.”

That last reference is to a letter he and Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) sent to the president today, asking a single question: “During the eight hours the U.S. mission was under attack, did you personally speak with any officials in the Libyan government to request assistance for our American personnel?”

McCain and other senators understand this is effectively the last opportunity to wrangle information out of the White House on Benghazi. Once Hagel is confirmed, the administration will have no reason to cooperate with congressional oversight committees at all. Holding up the final floor vote on Hagel is the only arrow left in their quiver.

As for Hagel’s speeches, we reported earlier that Hagel spoke before a group known for its controversial statements and positions on Israel, the Middle East and terrorism. It is unclear why this wasn’t disclosed, what other speeches are still out there and what, if anything, Hagel said that may be problematic. McCain appeared genuinely peeved that Hagel and/or his handlers are hiding the ball.

So for now, a temporary hold on the nomination remains a distinct possibility.

UPDATE: An aide to a senior Republican senator has told Right Turn that there are some 12 speeches over 5 years that Chuck Hagel did not disclose to the committee, including one to the Arab-American Discrimination Committee Convention in 2008. In one speech before the Israel Policy forum, Hagel proclaimed:” The Syrian-Israeli peace is a logical next piece in how this plays out. It’s a logical next piece.”

He also gave one of the most full-throated defenses of “linkage” we’ve heard:

“It is the one issue, the one issue alone, the Israeli-Palestinian issue alone. Fixing that alone is not going to fix every problem in the Middle East. We understand that. We have religious hatred. We have centuries of it. We have regional, tribal issues. Yes, all complicated. But that one issue, the Israeli-Palestinian issue shapes almost every other issue, not just the optics of it, but the reality of it. It is allowed to – as it plays itself out to dominate relationships, to dominate the people who would like a different kind of world. I know that there is a lot made on the issue of – well it’s important, but it certainly doesn’t affect everything. It does. I don’t know any other way to gage this, then you go out and listen to the leaders. You listen to Jewish leaders, and you listen to Arab leaders. You sit down with all the leaders with all those countries, and I have many times, different leaders, and they will take you right back to the same issue. Right back to this issue. Now I am not an expert on anything, and I’m certainly not an expert on the Middle East. Most of the people in this room, especially those that were on the panels tonight know a lot more about this issue than I do. But I do listen. I do observe. I am somewhat informed. That informs me that when the people of the Middle East themselves tell me that this issue has to be dealt with or there will there will not be a resolution to any other issue in the Middle East.”

This of course is not only untrue, but contrary to U.S. policy. How many other speeches are out there, and what is in them? The Republican committee members appear determined to find out.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.