Chuck Hagel (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
ASHINGTON -- Fifteen Republican senators called on President Obama on Thursday to withdraw his nomination of Chuck Hagel to be secretary of Defense, saying he is "not the right candidate" to lead the Pentagon.
Separately, Republican Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama indicated he would support Hagel, a former GOP senator from Nebraska.
The letter comes as the Democrat-controlled Senate prepares to give the embattled Hagel an up-or-down vote next week. It is notable because it does not include the signature of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a fierce Hagel critic.
"The occupant of this critical office should not be someone whose candidacy is neither controversial nor divisive," the GOP senators wrote.
They noted that no Pentagon chief in the last 50 years has been confirmed with more than three senators voting against him and no Defense secretary has every received more than 11 opposing votes.
The letter was signed by James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Sens. John Cornyn (Texas), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Roger Wicker (Miss.), David Vitter (La.), Ted Cruz (Texas), Mike Lee (Utah), Pat Toomey (Pa.), Marco Rubio (Fla.), Dan Coats (Ind.), Ron Johnson (Wis.), James Risch (Idaho), Tom Coburn (Okla.), John Barrasso (Wyo.) and Tim Scott (S.C.).
Hagel's nomination was blocked temporarily because of concerns over his record, management skills and temperament. Specifically, the senators said Hagel has made "disconcerting" statements about Iran's nuclear weapons ambitions. They said he "displayed a seeming ambivalence about whether containment or prevention is the best approach," the letter states.
The Senate, which is on recess this week, delayed the confirmation vote to give lawmakers more time to review Hagel's qualifications. McCain said last week he voted to block Hagel at that time, but would not prevent a final vote.
Meanwhile, Shelby told the Decatur Daily newspaper that Hagel is "probably as good as we're going to get." Spokesman Jonathan Graffeo said the senator will back Hagel's nomination, outside of any new developments before the Senate's final vote. Shelby would join GOP Sens. Thad Cochran of Mississippi and Mike Johanns of Nebraska as the only Republicans supporting Hagel.