(CNN) - Fifteen of Chuck Hagel’s harshest Republican critics in the Senate are calling on President Obama to withdraw his nomination, arguing “it would be unprecedented for a Secretary of Defense to take office without the broad base of bipartisan support and confidence needed to serve effectively in this critical position.”
In a letter Thursday to the president, the senators didn’t raise any new substantive concerns about Hagel but reiterated long-held complaints about his stances on key issues. In particular, they said his “ambivalence about whether containment or prevention is the best approach” to dealing with a possibly nuclear-armed Iran means “the military option will have near zero credibility” if he were in charge of the Pentagon.
In addition, they said Hagel’s uneven performance during his confirmation raised “serious doubts about his basic competence to meet the substantial demands” of the job.
The Senate is scheduled to vote Tuesday whether to end a GOP filibuster of the nomination. A similar vote last week fell short of the 60 votes needed to end the debate. Despite considerable opposition from Republican senators, many GOP lawmakers and aides expect Hagel will be confirmed, although with just a handful of GOP votes.
In fact, Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, who had voted against ending the filibuster so his colleagues would have more time to gather information about Hagel, announced Thursday that he would now support Hagel’s confirmation.
Signatories to the letter include Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate; James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee; Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who had previously called on the president to withdraw Hagel’s nomination; and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who raised hackles on both sides of the aisle when he suggested, without evidence, Hagel might have been paid by North Korea and other countries opposed to U.S. interests.
Notably absent from the letter is Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who has led the charge against Hagel’s confirmation and voted last week against breaking the filibuster. Despite his opposition, McCain has also said he believes the president has a right to an up or down vote on his cabinet selections.