White House 'very confident' Hagel will be confirmed as secretary of Defense

Senior White House adviser Dan Pfeiffer said Friday that there was "no question" the White House had secured more than 50 votes to support former Sen. Chuck Hagel's (R-Neb.) nomination to head the Defense Department.

"We're very confident of that," Pfeiffer told Bloomberg TV. "There's no question that there will be more than 50 votes to confirm Sen. Hagel."

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Hagel struggled through a contentious confirmation hearing Thursday, often having to correct statements or apologize for past comments. But White House press secretary Jay Carney said Friday that he believed Hagel "did fine" and helped secure votes necessary for his confirmation.

"We expect the Senate to confirm Sen. Hagel to the position of secretary of Defense," Carney said. "By my estimates and reading of press reports, there has been a net increase in the number of confirmed 'yes' votes for Sen. Hagel's confirmation since the hearing ended."

Pfeiffer also said he did not expect Republicans to filibuster Hagel's nomination, which would increase the threshold required for Hagel's confirmation to 60 votes.

"I would be disappointed and surprised if the Republicans were willing to filibuster one of their former colleagues for the secretary of Defense," he said.

The wide-ranging interview also touched on a number of other legislative priorities for the president as he begins his second term. Pfeiffer said the White House was "disturbed" by the suggestion that the sequester, which would make dramatic cuts to defense spending, be implemented.

"Well, we're disturbed by reports that Republicans who decried the sequester, said it would be the end of civilization as we know it during the election campaign, now seem comfortable having it go into effect," Pfeiffer said. "That would be bad for the economy. The GDP report that came out about last quarter, earlier this week, showed that the potential of the sequester going into effect had a dramatic effect on the economy. So we shouldn't let that happen."

Pfeiffer was also asked about the White House's insistence that immigration reform include protections for same-sex couples. Some Republicans, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), have said that they would reject a provision that treated gay partners the same as married heterosexual couples under immigration law.

"I think the president in his plan said that you should treat same-sex families the same way we treat heterosexual families," Pfeiffer said. "It's wrong to discriminate. It's a natural extension of the president's view about same-sex marriage, the view about providing equal rights, no matter who you love."

But asked if the protections were a deal-breaker, Pfeiffer hedged.

"I think our step on all issues is to lay out what the president wants done, provide that as a road map for this Senate gang, and let them work," he said. "And we'll see what their product is in the end."

Pfeiffer also said there would not be a single White House figure charged with shepherding through immigration reform, in the way former chief-of-staff Rahm Emanuel did for healthcare reform.

"I think we have a number of people with tremendous legislative experience who will help drive this," Pfeiffer said. "Rob Nabors, who was the president's legislative director, is now deputy chief of staff. He's going to work very closely with the Senate.  

"[White House Chief of Staff] Denis McDonough has many, many years on the Hill working ... both in the House and the Senate, including working for the [former] Senate majority leader, Tom Daschle [D-S.D.]."