The Senate Armed Services Committee could vote on President Obama's nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel to be the next Defense Secretary as early as Feb. 7.
—Amy McCullough and Michael C. Sirak
The SASC is scheduled to convene on that day to hear testimony from current Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, in which four Americans were killed, including Christopher Stevens, the US ambassador to Libya.
News of a vote comes as the likelihood of a GOP filibuster on the Senate floor to prevent the vote appears to be diminishing, according to press reports on Feb. 5.
Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said last week Republicans were considering such a move since Hagel did not impress during his nomination hearing on Jan. 31.
However, a key GOP player, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), has said he would not support a filibuster as a means to decide Hagel's fate.
Nonetheless, Hagel faces some stiff Republican opposition.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a SASC member, who previously threatened to hold up Hagel's nomination unless Panetta testified on Benghazi, called on the White House to "reconsider" Hagel's nomination in a Feb. 5 statement.
"Chuck Hagel is a good man, but these are dangerous times," stated Graham. "What kind of signal are we sending to the Iranians when our nominee for Secretary of Defense seems clueless about what our policy is?" he asked.
Graham was referring to a point in Hagel's testimony at the nomination hearing in which he said he supported the White House's containment policy against Iran. Hagel later corrected himself, acknowledging that the White House does not actually have a policy of containment against Iran.
Similarly critical has been Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), SASC ranking member, who stated already on Jan. 31 he thinks Hagel "is the wrong person to lead the Pentagon" at this time.
Another GOP member of the SASC, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), issued a statement on Feb. 1 declaring "this is a nomination I cannot support."
During an interview on NBC's Meet the Press on Feb. 3, Panetta backed Hagel as his replacement, saying "the political knives were out for Chuck Hagel" during his nomination hearing.
Panetta said he was disappointed that the senators did not spend more time discussing current and future issues with Hagel, such as the drawdown in Afghanistan and looming budget cuts through sequestration. He said he was confident in Hagel's ability to address those issues.
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