Senate set to test support for vote on Defense nominee Chuck Hagel
WASHINGTON — The Senate is scheduled to vote Tuesday on whether to cut off debate on the nomination of Chuck Hagel as defense secretary, testing whether there is support for a final vote to confirm President Barack Obama’s embattled nominee.
The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, said that he intended to try to end the Republican filibuster of Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska whose nomination was blocked Feb. 14.
While the Senate is ultimately expected to confirm Hagel, albeit narrowly, it remained unclear just how many more obstacles Republicans were willing to throw in his path.
If Hagel receives the required 60 votes as expected, the Senate could proceed immediately to a final vote if no senator objects.
If an objection is raised, Senate rules allow that the final vote can be delayed another 30 hours, meaning a vote could not take place until midday Wednesday.
For weeks, Hagel’s nomination has been bogged down in the Senate as members of both parties scrutinized his background — demanding answers on everything from his feelings toward Israel and Iran to the income he made from speechmaking once he left the Senate.
Opposition to his nomination — which has drawn the Obama administration into an uncomfortable fight with Senate Republicans as it tries to negotiate several other major issues with Congress like a fiscal plan and gun control — has become a galvanizing cause among many conservatives.
Independent political groups have mobilized to try to dig up anything unflattering they could find on Hagel. Although they have not found much, the frenzy has at times resulted in Republican senators throwing out incendiary charges that have stretched the bounds of Senate collegiality, especially considering that Hagel is a former member of their ranks.
Even though many Republicans remain firmly opposed to Hagel, efforts to filibuster his nomination — a first for a nominee for defense secretary — appear to be winding down. In recent days, senators like John McCain of Arizona who were among the most outspoken Republican opponents of Hagel have indicated that they would vote to end the filibuster this week.
And some of them have signaled that they are setting their sights on the next confirmation fight: John Brennan, Obama’s pick for CIA director.