Senior Senate Republican staffers have laid out the scenarios and timetable for us on Chuck Hagel’s nomination. The Senate Armed Services Committee reported out the nomination yesterday. It must stay on the Senate floor for one day (today). Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) then will send it into “executive session” and ask for a unanimous consent to move it to the floor. The GOP will deny it, by exercising a “hold.” Reid then will file for cloture, requiring two days before the cloture vote.
We are then at Friday, when the vote can be scheduled any time during the day. If the cloture vote succeeds (60 “yes” votes), then there are 30 hours of additional debate. If the Senate goes into recess first, that time is not counted, but in all likelihood Reid would ram through the vote to put this behind the Democrats before the recess. Then a simple majority is needed to confirm. If there are 41 votes against cloture, Reid can either move on to something else or schedule another cloture vote.
As we reported yesterday, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is now edging toward a “no” vote, at least on cloture this week. Politico now reports:
McCain is now waiting to see whether the White House will respond to a letter requesting more information about Obama’s “actions and orders” the night of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.
“We are hoping to get an answer to a simple question,” McCain told POLITICO.
When pressed about whether he would vote in favor of allowing a vote on Hagel, McCain said he is undecided.
“I am awaiting the answer to see whether they are going to answer or not, then I will decide,” McCain said.
McCain appears to be aligning himself with his closest Senate friend, Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who has been demanding more information on Benghazi before a final Hagel confirmation vote.
There is also the matter of the undisclosed speeches, which Republican senators want to review. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) has said he thinks there are enough votes to “delay” the vote, but it is not clear whether he is referring to the cloture vote or simply the requirement to file cloture. There is still a better-than-even chance that the Democrats will get to 60 votes, but the question is when and if this gets kicked over until after the recess. A plugged-in Senate staffer warns that “the Benghazi concerns and continuing concerns regarding disclosures could make it tight.”
One thing to keep in mind is that Hagel has been so badly scarred in this process and has conducted himself so poorly that neither Democrats or Republicans have much confidence in him. In a remarkable admission, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) says that Hagel’s performance left him with a “significant challenge . . . I can’t lie about that. It was not generally a very good performance. I don’t think it’s totally reflective of the man; [he] obviously, has a very distinguished career both in the military and the government.”
In sum, when and if Hagel gets through he will be a marginal figure, not likely to be given sensitive tasks and unable to carry weight with lawmakers. For Hagel critics and those privately fretting that he is in well over his head, there is consolation in knowing he’ll be a non-player. The choice of deputy secretary of defense then will take on new importance. Who is really going to run the Pentagon?