Hagel (continued)

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MC1 Chad J. McNeeley / DoD

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and his wife, Sylvia, visit Arlington National Cemetery's Section 60, where many veterans of the Afghan and Iraq wars are buried, Feb. 14.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta flew home to California late Thursday, but unfortunately – for him – his job went with him, too.

He was hoping that the Senate would confirm former Republican senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska to take his place, but Senate Republicans blocked that from happening late Thursday afternoon. Earlier, at the Pentagon, he had said he was looking forward to getting “the hell out of town at the end of the day” — for keeps. “I feel like it’s Groundhog Day around here.”

But it wasn’t in the cards dealt on the Senate floor. Hagel “has the support of this body, a majority vote of this body,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said. “At a time when America faces so many threats…it’s tragic they’ve decided to filibuster this qualified nominee.”

Senate critics have contended Hagel has been too tough on Israel and not tough enough on Iran, and have demanded more financial information from him. They’re also using Hagel as a cudgel to batter President Obama on the death of U.S. ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three fellow Americans at the hands of terrorists last Sept. 11 at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. “There seems to not be much interest to hold this president accountable for a national-security breakdown that led to the first ambassador being killed in the line of duty in over 30 years,” Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said. “No, the debate on Chuck Hagel is not over. It has not been serious. We don’t have the information we need. And I’m going to fight the idea of jamming somebody through until we get answers about what the president did personally when it came to the Benghazi debacle.”

Reid called for a vote to halt debate on Hagel’s nomination. It failed because Reid and the Democrats couldn’t get five GOP senators to join them and produce the 60-vote margin needed to end debate. But enough GOP senators, including John McCain of Arizona and Graham, agreed they will vote to shut off debate following next week’s Senate recess.

Following that vote, expected Feb. 26, the Hagel nomination will move to a straight up-or-down vote in on the Senate floor. He’s expected to win that, absent some new information tossed over the transom in the next 10 days. For some GOP members, that was a key reason to push for the delay.

The White House was displeased. “We have 66,000 men and women deployed in Afghanistan,” it said in a statement, “and we need our new secretary of defense to be a part of significant decisions about how we bring that war to a responsible end.”

But the White House probably wasn’t as upset as Panetta. A senior aide says he will stay on the job until Hagel is confirmed. Panetta was expecting to be relaxing on his walnut farm in Montery, Calif., next week. Instead, once again, he’ll have to cross the country, and the Atlantic, to attend a top-level NATO confab on the war in Afghanistan in Brussels.

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(Your Battleland scribe chatted about this Thursday night on PBS’s NewsHour with Todd Zwillich of public radio and Magaret Warner of the NewsHour here.)