Leading Republicans, including McCain, have said they would drop the filibuster effort if the White House gives them more information about the actions President Obama took during an eight-hour siege at the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11. The attack killed the U.S. ambassador to the country and three other Americans.
Democrats, however, have suggested that Republicans are only focusing on Benghazi to slow the confirmation process so that Hagel — known for a mercurial temperament and as an impulsive decision-maker in the past — would withdraw his nomination.
A spokesman for Hagel suggested he would stay and fight, as did a spokesman for the president, who was flying to a domestic policy event in Georgia.
“We urge the Republicans in the Senate to drop their delay,” Obama spokesman Josh Earnest said. “There is a clear majority in the United States Senate for senator Hagel’s confirmation. These delaying tactics are unconscionable, and they should end right away.”
White House counsel Kathryn H. Ruemmler sent McCain a letter Thursday that largely reiterated the facts found by an accountability review board that examined the Benghazi attack. She added that then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was in contact with the Libyan leadership during the attack “to coordinate additional support to protect Americans” there, noting that Obama called the Libyan president the next day to discuss the security situation in the area.
“We continue to urge the full Senate to act swiftly and confirm senator Hagel,” Ruemmeler wrote.
McCain said Thursday that he was satisfied by the White House response to his question but that he believes other senators still have pending inquiries.
“We are working on and having negotiations now, trying to smooth this thing out and get it done,” McCain said. “I have said all along that we had to have the concerns of senators addressed. I’m hopeful that we can get those concerns addressed and still move forward with a 51-vote vote, because we have never required 60 votes on a secretary of defense.”
On the Senate floor Thursday morning, Reid warned forebodingly that if Hagel was not confirmed Friday, the Pentagon would be without an official leader.
“In less than two hours, our country will be without a secretary of defense,” Reid said. “It’s shocking that my Republican colleagues would leave the nation without a fully empowered secretary of defense.”
The Pentagon says otherwise. Defense Secretary Panetta “believes Senator Hagel should be confirmed as quickly as possible, and plans to stay in office until he is confirmed,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said.
Panetta did little to hide his frustration Thursday about Hagel’s embattled nomination. Hosting former secretary of state Hillary Clinton at the Pentagon for what Panetta had hoped would be his last day on the job, he said he was counting the days until he flies home to California— for good.
After calling Clinton’s visit a “great Valentine’s Day present for all of us here,” Panetta joked that there was one more item on his wish list.
“The second-best Valentine’s present would be to allow Sylvia and I to get the hell out of town at the end of the day,” Panetta said, referring to his wife. “I feel like it’s “Groundhog Day” around here.”
During his time on the Senate floor Thursday, Reid slammed Republicans for demanding more information on Benghazi from Hagel and the White House, calling claims that Hagel had not been forthcoming in his testimony during his confirmation hearing “outlandish.”
Rachel Weiner, Rosalind S. Helderman, Ernesto Londoño and Felicia Sonmez contributed to this report. Discuss this topic and other political issues in The Post’s Politics Discussion Forums.