Senator John McCain announced Monday that he will not attempt to block by filibuster the confirmation of his former senate colleague Chuck Hagel to become the next Secretary of Defense.
One of Hagel's toughest critics in last week's confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, McCain had indicated that unsatisfactory responses from the defense nominee could lead him to vote "no" on Hagel's confirmation. Specifically, McCan and Hagel clashed over the 2007 troop surge in Iraq, which Hagel opposed and McCain points to as a turning point in the Iraq war.
McCain's formidable stature in the Senate, particularly on foreign affairs, is expected to heavily influence the Republican caucus. Yet Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said in an interview this past weekend that it was "not clear yet" whether Republicans would filibuster the defense nominee. Without a filibuster challenge, Hagel needs a simple majority to win confirmation. To defeat a filibuster, he must garner 60 votes.
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, maintains that the Senate Democratic Caucus stands ready to vote "yea" on Hagel's confirmation with all 55 members' votes. Democrats largely fell in line following a meeting between Hagel and influential New York Senator Chuck Schumer, which Schumer said allayed his concerns about past statements the defense nominee had made about Israel.
Republicans Thad Cochran of Mississippi and Mike Johannes of Nebraska have indicated they will vote in favor of Hagel's confirmation. That brings the "yea" tally up to 57--more than enough to clear a simple majority vote. Should Republicans choose to filibuster the president's choice, Democrats will need three more Republican Senators in the yes column.
In a statement to reporters following Hagel's nearly eight hours of testimony, Levin indicated that both Cochran and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) would support Hagel. Murkowski clarified her position in an interview with Andrea Mitchell Monday:
"I caught many of the news snippets [of Hagel's confirmation hearing], of course, that give me some concern, I'll be very honest with you. But I have to acknowledge that what we have seen come out of the news have been some of the more dramatic moments, some of the moments where clearly Senator Hagel displayed a weakness. I have got concerns about that. But I've got to do my homework. I intend to do just that.
"I had a very good one-on-one meeting with Senator Hagel some weeks ago," Murkowski told Mitchell. "I had an opportunity to ask some pretty direct questions. And I'll be up front with you, in that exchange he did a lot to allay the concerns that I have. What troubles me now is in view of what I have seen, albeit somewhat truncated here, with his performance before the committee last week. I need to go back and gain assurance that there was a level of consistency. And right now I can tell you I don't have that."
A number of senators agreed with Murkowski's assessment of Hagel's performance last week. Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill declared in an interview with Andrea Mitchell following the morning session, "Chuck Hagel is much more comfortable asking questions than answering them."
About a dozen Republican Senators have indicated they will oppose Hagel's nomination; among them: Marco Rubio of Florida, Roy Blunt of Missouri, Mark Kirk of Illinois, Richard Burr of North Carolina, and Dan Coats of Indiana. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who along with McCain questioned Hagel aggressively in Thursday's hearing, told reporters Thursday, "It's not looking good," but declined to give a firm answer.
Along with Murkowski, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Bob Corker of Tennessee are being eyed as possible Hagel supporters.
The Senate Armed Services Committee and full chamber could vote on Hagel's confirmation as early as this week.