Why is Chuck Hagel on the hot seat?

  • Article by: Wire services
  • Updated: February 19, 2013 - 9:59 PM

The former GOP senator’s colleagues in the Senate have been waging a campaign against the Nebraskan. The latest issue: Benghazi

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Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s choice for defense secretary, has been grilled by GOP senators during confirmation hearings.

Republicans have found a boatload of reasons to try to sink Chuck Hagel’s hopes of becoming the next defense secretary. But the issue they last used to stall his nomination — the White House’s handling of last September’s deadly Benghazi attack — may seem entirely unrelated to Hagel’s qualifications because, well, it is.

Here are some questions and answers about the connection between President Obama’s choice to lead the Pentagon and the campaign by Sen. John McCain and others in the Senate to press for more answers on Benghazi:

Q: How did the Hagel nomination become entangled with Benghazi?

A: The short answer is politics. Hagel had no role in the crisis that took the lives of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. Neither did the Pentagon, although some have questioned why U.S. troops did not reach Libya until well after the crisis was over. The answer from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is that the closest relevant U.S. forces could not get there before the killings; he has said the Pentagon could have acted sooner if it had received intelligence warnings in advance of the attack.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican who has joined McCain, R-Ariz., in temporarily blocking the Hagel nomination, does not claim a connection between the two issues. He asserts that Obama was inattentive when the Benghazi emergency was unfolding, and that by keeping a public focus on this, the Benghazi experience could be a teaching tool for future presidents. Graham, in other words, is using Hagel as a political wedge to highlight what he sees as an exploitable Obama failure.

Q: What remains to be uncovered about the administration’s handling of the Benghazi attack?

  • What’s next for Hagel?

    Unless new obstacles emerge, it appears that former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel will win confirmation when the Senate returns from recess next week. Sen. John McCain and other Republicans who have been opposing Hagel have said they will be ready to vote to permit an up-or-down vote when the Senate reconvenes. It likely will be a mostly party-line vote, unlike those of recent defense secretaries. Leon Panetta, the outgoing Pentagon chief, for example, was approved 100-0

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