OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Hagel vote, take two

After Republicans blocked his confirmation from moving forward two weeks ago on a 58-40 vote, enough GOP senators now say they will vote for cloture on Tuesday. A successful cloture vote would lead to a final up-or-down vote on Hagel’s confirmation either Tuesday or Wednesday.

That vote would almost assuredly bring a successful end for Hagel to what’s been the most contentious fight over a Defense secretary nominee in more than two decades, as Democrats have 55 votes in the Senate and none has expressed opposition to Hagel. 

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Three Republicans have also said they will vote yes. Republicans said they wanted to wait a week before deciding to vote on Hagel, and several Republicans likely to vote against him said Monday they will support cloture.

Armed Services Committee Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) both said they would vote yes for cloture, as did Sen. Bob Corker, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Others were less willing to disclose their plans, including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who has led the charge to use Hagel’s confirmation to obtain more Benghazi information from the White House.

“I'll let you know tomorrow," Graham said when asked Monday how he’d vote.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who voted present on the first cloture vote, also would not say how he would vote Tuesday. Freshman Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), another vocal Hagel opponent, did not answer reporters’ questions Monday about the vote. 

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, urged his colleagues last week to vote against cloture.

Sequester road trip, White House-style: In the waning months of 2012, as Washington counted the days till the across-the-board cuts under the administration's sequestration plan would be triggered, a number of top GOP lawmakers took to the road to extol the devastating effects of those cuts directly to the American people. 

Months later, facing another sequestration deadline, President Obama is taking a page out of the Republican playbook and hitting the road this week, to preach about the fiscal perils facing the country if sequester becomes reality. 

The president's first stop will be in Newport News, Va. — an area along eastern Virginia whose economic livelihood is closely tied to the huge Navy presence in the region and the subsequent impact of sequestration on those ties. 

Nearly 90,000 Navy and Pentagon civilian employees working in the Norfolk, Newport News and Hampton Roads areas in eastern Virginia will be furloughed under sequestration, according to the White House.

The visit will be "to highlight the fact that there will be real-world impacts to the implementation of the sequester if that takes place — if Republicans allow it to take place. It's a wholly unnecessary self-inflicted wound on the American economy," White House press secretary Jay Carney said last week.

But GOP leaders on Capitol Hill are hammering the administration for the trip, claiming the White House is simply playing the blame game over sequestration, rather than working with Congress to come up with a solution. 

“The president proposed the sequester, yet he’s far more interested in holding campaign rallies than he is in urging Senate Democrats to actually pass a plan,” Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a brief Capitol news conference with the House GOP leadership team on Monday. 

“This is not the time for a road show president,” said Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the third-ranking House Republican, during the same press briefing.

Armed Services Republicans push new anti-sequester bills: House Republicans on the Armed Services Committee introduced two new bills Monday to stave of the across-the-board sequester cuts set to hit the Pentagon.

Neither is likely to provide an 11th-hour solution to the looming cuts, although both Reps. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) and Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) are hopeful the measures will help whenever a solution is in fact found.

The bills are different, although they accomplish the same thing: removing the Pentagon’s side of the across-the-board cuts. Forbes’s bill just simply does away with defense sequestration, and reduces the amount of the sequester by an equal size. 

That’s likely to have opponents in both parties: from GOP budget hawks and Democrats who say that the domestic cuts are equally or more important.

Coffman’s bill provides an alternative to sequester by generating roughly $500 billion in defense cuts on his own, providing a targeted approach rather than an across-the-board one.

DOD back in the hot seat: This week, top DOD leaders and senior military brass will again be making the familiar trip back to Capitol Hill to deliver their doom and gloom scenarios on what will happen to the American armed forces if automatic cuts under sequestration become reality. 

Already appearing before both House and Senate armed services panels numerous times, House defense appropriators on Tuesday will get their turn to press Pentagon and uniformed leaders on what they see as the worst case national security scenarios under sequestration. 

But a lot has changed in the months since Pentagon officials first went to Congress to press lawmakers to cut a deal to stave off the $500 billion in across-the-board budget cuts under sequestration. 

A number of lawmakers on Capitol Hill and decision makers inside the Pentagon have resigned the fact the cuts will be triggered in March, with much of the rhetoric now focusing on what to do when the cuts go into effect and — more importantly — who is to blame. 

House GOP members earlier this month pointed the finger directly at the Defense Department, claiming the Pentagon's lack of planning brought congressional negotiations over a possible sequester deal to a standstill. 

However, DOD leaders have been adamant that efforts to draw attention to the devastating effects of the sequester plan have been clear since the plan went into effect in 2011. 

Whether the growing animosity between DOD and Congress over sequestration will continue during Tuesday's defense appropriations hearing remains to be seen. 

But what is clear is that the White House, Pentagon and Congress are quickly running out of time and options on sequester, with all three able to offer little more than partisan rhetoric focused on assigning blame than avoiding the cuts.


In Case You Missed It: 

— Lawmakers work to undo Navy ship repair cuts

— Taliban hammers Afghan intelligence agency 

— Hagel vote set for Tuesday 

— GOP push new anti-sequester bills


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