Washington • Sen. Mike Lee is calling on President Barack Obama to withdraw his nominee to head the Defense Department, while Utah's other senator, Orrin Hatch, isn't sure he'll vote for his former Senate colleague, Chuck Hagel, to oversee the Pentagon.
Lee joined 14 fellow GOP senators in opposing Hagel's nomination, requesting in a letter to Obama on Thursday that the president pull back the nominee rather than put in place a secretary lacking support.
"Senator Hagel's performance at his confirmation hearing was deeply concerning, leading to serious doubts about his basic competence to meet the substantial demands of the office," Lee said in the joint letter. "While Senator Hagel's erratic record and myriad conversions on key national security issues are troubling enough, his statements regarding Iran were disconcerting."
Lee and his colleagues noted that no defense secretary in the past 50 years had been confirmed with three opposing votes, and never in history with more than 11 senators against the nominee. The letter was signed by 15 Republican senators.
Hatch voted "present" on advancing Hagel's nomination, but his office said the senator hadn't decided how he'll vote on the nominee when he comes up for a vote next week.
Hatch says he has concerns about Hagel a former GOP senator from Nebraska not being forthcoming with information Republicans have requested, namely past speeches he's made concerning Israel and Iran.
"He still has the same concerns," Hatch spokesman Matt Harakal said Thursday.
Hagel needs 60 votes in the Senate to get past a procedural hurdle to be confirmed, though he got a boost Thursday when Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., became the third Republican to back the nominee.
White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest said last week that the delay by Republicans in confirming Hagel was a political tactic and that the GOP was depriving the nation of a critical leader.
"It's unfortunate," Earnest said, "there are Republicans in this case who are choosing to play politics as opposed to doing the right thing."