WASHINGTON - Senate Democrats are pushing ahead with a vote today on Chuck Hagel's nomination to be defense secretary, rejecting Republican demands for more financial information from Hagel in a politically charged fight over President Barack Obama's second-term national security team.
In a brief statement, Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said Monday that the panel would meet this afternoon with the "intention to vote on the nomination after the members have an opportunity for discussion." Levin had hoped to hold a committee vote last Thursday, but postponed it amid growing complaints from Republicans.
In a boost to Levin's efforts, the committee's former top Republican - Sen. John McCain - said Monday that Hagel had fulfilled the panel's rigorous requirements on information and a vote should occur. McCain said he still had concerns about Hagel's national security positions but declined to say how he would vote.
"I believe it is appropriate for the Armed Services Committee to vote on Senator Hagel's nomination and determine whether to move this nomination to the Senate floor where members can debate and express their own judgments on Senator Hagel," McCain said.
Obama tapped Hagel, a former two-term Nebraska Republican senator and twice-wounded combat veteran in Vietnam, to succeed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who is stepping down after serving as CIA director and Pentagon chief in the president's first term.
Democrats hold a 14-12 edge on the Armed Services panel and it's likely that Hagel will win approval on a party-line vote just hours before Obama delivers his State of the Union address at the Capitol.
The committee is deeply divided over the nominee, with Democrats backing the president's choice and Republicans pressing for more information about Hagel's finances and foreign donors to organizations that he has been affiliated with since leaving the Senate in 2009. Two Republicans on the committee - Sens. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina - have threatened to use their power to stop the nomination.
"I would threaten to cause a 60-vote margin; yes I would. If it took a filibuster, I'd do it that way," Inhofe, the top Republican on the committee, told "Fox News" on Sunday. Graham signaled that he would hold up Senate confirmation of Hagel and CIA Director-designate John Brennan if he doesn't get more answers about the fatal assault on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, last month.
Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the Sept. 11 attack.
"We're going to get to the bottom of Benghazi," Graham said on CBS' "Face the Nation."
In a letter on Friday, Levin had rejected Republican demands as beyond the scope for nominees, Republican and Democrat, as he detailed the financial information that had been required for nearly 30 years of nominees.