published Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

Area senators play key role in Chuck Hagel vote


by Chris Carroll
Chuck Hagel
Chuck Hagel
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

HOW THEY VOTED

There were two votes on former Sen. Chuck Hagel's confirmation as defense secretary. One was to end debate after seven weeks. The other was on Hagel's nomination itself.

TO END DEBATE

Tennessee

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander - Yes

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker - Yes

Georgia

U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss - Yes

U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson - No

Alabama

U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions - Yes

U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby - Yes

TO CONFIRM HAGEL AS DEFENSE SECRETARY

Tennessee

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander - No

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker - No

Georgia

U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss - No

U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson - No

Alabama

U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions - No

U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby - Yes

Note: All are Republicans.

WASHINGTON — Five Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama senators helped an old Republican colleague become Secretary of Defense on Tuesday. Yet only one went all the way for Chuck Hagel.

Two Tennesseans, two Alabamans and one Georgian voted to stop a seven-week limbo and allow a confirmation vote for the former senator from Nebraska. But only U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said "yes" to the big question.

He was one of four Republicans to endorse Hagel.

"I would worry about who might come if you rejected him," Shelby said after the final vote. "He'll do well. I hope he will. He's a decorated soldier; give him a chance."

Other Southerners rejected Hagel and echoed long-held doubts about President Barack Obama's choice to lead the military. But they found themselves in the minority after the Senate voted 58-41 to install Hagel, a Vietnam War veteran and two-time Purple Heart winner.

A skeptic of America's recent conflicts, Hagel's the first enlisted man ever to run the Pentagon.

"I admire his patriotism. I know him. He's a friend of mine," U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said in an interview. "I simply think by virtue of his views and his experience that he's not the right man to run the largest military organization in the world at a time like this."

Republicans have called Hagel weak on Iran and dismissive of Israel. They've also balked at his questions about America's role in Afghanistan and Iraq. But Democrats embrace Hagel's skepticism and say the GOP's concerns are overblown and willfully out of context.

Two weeks ago, Alexander joined a successful GOP effort to delay Hagel's nomination. But on Tuesday, Tennessee's senior senator executed an earlier promise to shutter debate after the Presidents' Day recess.

"We weren't ready to end debate," Alexander said, "and now we are. [It was] not for me. But a number of other Republican senators had questions they wanted answered."

Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and John McCain, R-Ariz, asked the White House for information on last year's attacks in Benghazi, Libya, in return for a quicker vote on Hagel.

But other senators hinted Tuesday that Benghazi had nothing to do with Hagel. While Alexander's Volunteer State partner didn't go that far, he indicated the Hagel delay encourages an awkward relationship between Congress and the military's top civilian.

"I think there's no question that this process has been very damaging," U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said.

When asked if the delay produced anything new or revealing about Hagel, Corker grinned.

"I don't know [if] it's my role to value what's good and what's not good," he said.

Earlier Tuesday, Alexander, Corker and U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., voted to stop debate and proceed to the confirmation. But the other Peach State Republican -- Sen. Johnny Isakson -- repeated his Feb. 14 vote to stall further.

All four opposed Hagel's final confirmation vote.

"I'm respecting the members of the [Senate Armed Services Committee] that are waiting for more information," Isakson said afterward.

But Shelby, the Alabama Republican, said prolonging the nomination was irresponsible.

"I've been there before," he said. "I've blocked people, and we'd get somebody worse sometimes."

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