The Senate Armed Services Committee was set to approve the nomination of Chuck Hagel for secretary of defense Tuesday, but several Republican senators told The Cable they will insist he receive 60 votes on the Senate floor before he is confirmed.
The committee debated the Hagel nomination in anticipation of a Tuesday afternoon vote that is expected to fall along party lines, with all committee Republicans voting against the nomination. After the committee acts, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is expected to call for a final floor vote on Thursday, just before the Senate goes on vacation. Several GOP senators told The Cable Tuesday that they will not agree to a simple up or down vote on the Senate floor this week, including Senate Armed Services Committee ranking Republican James Inhofe (R-OK), Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX), John McCain (R-AZ), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC).
(UPDATE: The committee approved Hagel late Tuesday by a 14-11 vote that fell along party lines.)
Inhofe's demand for 60 votes is related to his overall objection to Hagel becoming defense secretary, which is based on Hagel's past record on issues ranging from Iran, Israel, Hamas, and cuts to the defense budget. Inhofe also wants Hagel to further disclose financial records related to his past speeches.
"We're going to require a 60-vote threshold," Inhofe told The Cable.
Cornyn told The Cable, "There is a 60-vote threshold for every nomination."
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) told The Cable that he is confident Hagel can avoid a filibuster.
"If there's a filibuster, I think there will be more than 60 votes to stop a filibuster," Levin said.
Levin is adding up the 55 Democrats in the Senate, all of whom are expected to support Hagel, with the two Republicans who support Hagel, Thad Cochran (R-MS) and Mike Johanns (R-NE), and the senators who have pledged not to filibuster Hagel, such as McCain.
Inhofe insisted that his demand for a 60-vote threshold is not a "filibuster." Inhofe said he will object to unanimous consent for a simple majority vote, which will prevent Reid from bringing the Hagel nomination to the floor without first filing for cloture, which requires 60 votes to proceed to a final vote.
"It's not a filibuster. I don't want to use that word," Inhofe said.
It may be a distinction without a difference, but it's a distinction that GOP senators like McCain are prepared to embrace. McCain has repeatedly said he is opposed to filibustering Hagel but told The Cable Tuesday that he would vote against a cloture vote this week if the White House doesn't provide the information he has requested on the president's actions the night of the Benghazi attack.
"We need to know what the president's conversations were," McCain said. "I would vote no [on cloture] on Thursday [unless the information is provided]."
Graham is also opposed to a "filibuster" of Hagel, but told The Cable today he would place a "hold" on the Hagel nomination after the committee vote.
"I think the president has stonewalled the Congress on Benghazi. I think a lot of people are worried that we don't have all the information on Chuck Hagel," said Graham. "I'm not inclined to filibuster. I'm going to hold him and Reid is not going to not honor my hold and try to hold the vote on Thursday."
Senate aides told The Cable that the earliest Reid could call for a cloture vote would be Wednesday, according to Senate rules. That would set up a final vote for Friday, unless there were unanimous consent to move the vote up to Thursday. If the vote doesn't happen by Friday, it would be delayed until after the President's Day recess.
Graham said that if Reid is able to force a Senate floor vote on Thursday, he is optimistic that the GOP caucus will hold ranks and prevent cloture from being invoked, which would delay the final vote.
"I hope our colleagues will say they are pushing a controversial nominee too fast," said Graham. "I think our caucus believes that having cloture on Hagel this soon with this many unanswered questions and the Obama administration stonewalling the Congress is inappropriate by Harry Reid."
Ultimately, most senators said that eventually Hagel will receive an up-or-down vote in the Senate and when that happens, he is expected to come out on top.
"I would think at some point he will be confirmed," Johanns told The Cable.
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