Transcript: Hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee on the Nomination of Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense
SENATOR CARL LEVIN (D-MI): All right. Alrighty. Here we go. Y'all -- are y'all set?
Sen. LEVIN: (Sounds gavel.) Good morning, everybody.
The committee meets today to consider the nomination of former Senator Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense.
But before we begin, I want to first welcome Senator Inhofe as the new ranking Republican on our committee, succeeding Senator McCain. Senator McCain has been a great partner over the last six years, and I thank him for all that he has done to get our bills enacted, for all of his leadership on a host of issues, for his support of the work of this committee and for always keeping our hearings lively. Senator Inhofe has shown his strong commitment to the national defense over his 20 years on this committee over his 20 years on this committee, and I know that we're going to work well together to continue the bipartisan tradition of the committee.
We're also pleased to welcome the eight senators who are joining the committee this year, both those who are new to the Senate and those who are new to our committee: Senators Donnelly, Hirono, Kaine and King on the Democratic side and Senators Blunt, Cruz, Fischer and Lee on the Republican side. You will all find that this is a wonderful committee where we work across party lines to support our troops and their families and their national defense mission.
I'd also like to pause for a moment to offer my thanks and the thanks of our committee to Secretary Panetta, who delayed his retirement and his return to California to serve our country first as director of central intelligence and then as secretary of defense. Secretary Panetta has provided a steady hand at the Department of Defense through two very difficult years and has earned our great respect and our appreciation.
On Wednesday night, the Senate adopted by voice vote an amendment introduced by Oregon Democrat Jeff Merkley calling on President Obama to speed up U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan. This was a watershed event towards ending the war. The previous high water mark of Senators calling for expedited withdrawal was 27; the previous high water mark on a vote was 18. The vote is a green light from the Senate to the White House for a faster military withdrawal that would save many American and Afghan lives and (at least) many tens of billions of taxpayer dollars.
Because it was a voice vote, there was no roll call. But, if you want to know who especially to thank, 21 Senators sponsored Merkley's amendment:
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR); Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT); Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM); Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY); Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH); Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT); Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK); Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM); Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA); Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD); Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND); Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL); Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY); Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA); Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT); Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV); Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) ; Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV); Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT); Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY); Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)
The Senate vote - which saw John McCain standing alone in vocal opposition - is more evidence that on key issues of war and military spending, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, John McCain, Lindsay Graham and Buck McKeon haven't been speaking for Republicans generally.
Report back on your calls to your Senators' offices concerning S.J. Res. 18 by posting a comment below.
If you haven't called yet, please do. Here's a sample script:
2. Ask to be transferred to your Senator's office.
3. Ask to speak to the staff person who handles foreign or military affairs. If you can't speak with this person, just leave a message with the individual who answered the phone.
4. Say, “My name is _______ and I am from [YOUR CITY, YOUR STATE]. I strongly urge Senator X to co-sponsor S.J. Res. 18, the Webb/Corker bill which would prohibit ground troops in Libya and call on the President to seek congressional authorization for U.S. war in Libya."
5. When you're done, please take a moment and report your call by leaving a comment on thsi page.
Much ink has been spilled over the President's pledge to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan in July 2011. The White House insists that the date is firm. But the pace of withdrawal is yet to be determined, and the White House hasn't said a word about when - if ever - a U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan will be complete.
There is a signed agreement that says U.S. troops have to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011. But there is no such agreement for Afghanistan. Yet the majority of Americans have told pollsters that they think the U.S. should establish a timetable for military withdrawal.
Meanwhile, Walter Pincus reports in the Washington Post, the Pentagon is planning for years of U.S. combat in Afghanistan:
"Three $100 million air base expansions in southern and northern Afghanistan illustrate Pentagon plans to continue building multimillion-dollar facilities in that country to support increased U.S. military operations well into the future."
Pincus noted that "…many of the installations being built…have extended time horizons. None of the three projects…is expected to be completed until the latter half of 2011. All of them are for use by U.S. forces rather than by their Afghan counterparts."
But Pincus also reported that while the House has approved the money for this "enduring base" construction, the Senate has yet to vote on it.
Should there not at least be a debate on this issue in the Senate?
Who knew Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter would emerge as one of the most vocal opponents in the Senate of the President's military escalation in Afghanistan?
But so it is. In an op-ed this week in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Specter not only challenges the "surge"; he also challenges fundamental premises of the war. Specter writes:
I'm opposed to sending 30,000 more American troops to Afghanistan because I don't believe they are indispensable in our fight against al Qaeda.
But if al Qaeda can organize and operate out of Yemen, Somalia or elsewhere, then why fight in Afghanistan, which has made a history of resisting would-be conquerors - from Alexander the Great in the 3rd century BC, to Great Britain in the 19th and early 20th centuries, to the former Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s?
What can one Senator do? Well, one Senator can introduce legislation, for starters. At this writing, there isn't a single piece of legislation before the Senate that expresses opposition to continuing the war indefinitely. This is in marked contrast to the House, where Representative McGovern's bill requiring the Pentagon to present Congress with an exit strategy from Afghanistan has more than 100 co-sponsors. That's like having 23 Senators.
But Arlen Specter is in a unique position to do much more than introduce legislation. He could turn his Pennsylvania Democratic Senate primary into a referendum on the Afghanistan war, because his primary opponent, Joe Sestak, supports the war and supports the escalation: