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Senator threatens to hold up Obama nominations for Defense, CIA

February 10, 2013|By Joseph Tanfani

WASHINGTON – A key Republican senator, still not satisfied with White House answers on the attack on a U.S. diplomatic outpost in Libya, said Sunday that he would try to delay Senate confirmation of President Obama’s nominees for Defense secretary and CIA director.

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that he would seek to block votes on Chuck Hagel as defense secretary and John Brennan as CIA director until he gets a better explanation of what the president himself was doing during the attack in September on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, which killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.

“This is a complete system failure, and I’m going to get to the bottom of it,” he said.

Graham said he would put a so-called hold on the two confirmation votes. Under the Senate’s often-arcane rules, a hold can be a tough procedural obstacle. As with a filibuster, 60 votes are needed to end the hold and bring the motion to the Senate floor.

Republican critics, including Graham, have been hammering at the administration’s response since shortly after the terrorist raid, criticizing early statements that linked the attack to demonstrations against a video that was critical of Islam. On Sunday, Graham raised questions about whether the president intervened to try to speed more help to the besieged compound.

“I don’t know what the president did that evening. I don’t know if he ever called anyone,” Graham said.

Democratic Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, also appearing on the program, said that Graham’s threat was “unprecedented and unwarranted.”

He said Graham had the right to ask “legitimate questions,” but not to try to block the nominations from an up-or-down vote. He called it “an overreaction that is not going to serve the best interest going forward of the national security of the United States.”

It’s not clear how much support Graham’s move would have among fellow Republicans. Sen. John McCain said Sunday that he was leaning toward voting no on Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska, saying he had “grave concerns” about his suitability.

But McCain also said he thought it would be wrong to invoke a filibuster to thwart a president's cabinet choices, although he didn’t address the use of holds.

“We’ve never filibustered a presidential cabinet appointee, and I don’t think we should start here,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.” “Elections have consequences, unfortunately.”

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joseph.tanfani@latimes.com

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