Defense Department

The Next Hurdle for Hagel's Confirmation as Pentagon Chief

Most still expect he'll make it, but it’s unclear where the votes are.

Chuck Hagel could be in trouble.

Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee expressed a unified lack of confidence in their former colleague as potential Defense secretary and accused Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Tuesday of “jamming” the vote by disregarding requests to delay until more questions are answered.

“This is a controversial nominee. I think they are jamming the vote,” said Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. “Our caucus believes that having cloture on Hagel this soon with this many unanswered questions and the administration stonewalling is inappropriate by Harry Reid.”

Indeed, Reid made plain he had no plans to honor any holds placed on Hagel's nomination. So now it comes down to a possible cloture vote – a procedural hurdle that Republicans could force, requiring the nomination to first clear a 60-vote threshold before moving to an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor.

“I wouldn't be surprised if we do have a cloture vote on the Hagel nomination. We'll see,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. said. “There are a number of members of the committee who feel that the requests for information have not yet been met. I don't know whether that's the view of everyone in our conference, but it's certainly the view of some.”

It only takes one senator to demand the 60-vote hurdle be met and it could be Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., the ranking member on Armed Services. “We are going to see to it that he has a 60-vote threshold and by doing that, there are going to have to be 60 votes out of the United States Senate who want him to be secretary of Defense,” Inhofe said on Fox News.

Most observers still expect Hagel to be confirmed but, if Republicans do insist on such a hurdle, it’s unclear where the votes would be. So far only two Republicans, Sens. Thad Cochran of Mississippi and Mike Johanns of Nebraska, have said they plan to support Hagel.

“I don’t know if I can stop it,” Inhofe said, but added he feels confident about his odds of defeating Hagel. “I give it a 55/45,” he said.

Committee Republicans want more information across a range of issues, including Hagel’s finances, speeches, and an unrelated issue of whether the administration asked the Libyan government for assistance during the Benghazi attacks.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., also does not want the Senate to proceed until more information is provided. But he has warned against filibustering the nomination, saying it could set bad precedent and hurt Republicans in the long run.

Leadership aides said Reid could move to end debate as soon as Wednesday, setting up a vote on Hagel later this week before lawmakers adjourn for a week-long recess.