The Senate Intelligence Committee voted 12-3 on Tuesday to approve John Brennan’s nomination to lead the CIA, clearing the way for a vote by the full chamber.
President Obama’s counterterrorism chief sailed through the committee by a large margin after the White House provided members with access to all legal opinions justifying the use of armed drone strikes.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the panel’s chairwoman, said no Democrats voted against Brennan, but she did not provide further details on the secret vote.
She suggested the full Senate would move on Brennan soon, saying Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) “is committed to moving quickly to schedule a vote.”
While Feinstein said Democrats might need to call a cloture vote to end floor debate on Brennan, she expressed confidence supporters could win the 60 votes needed to move to a final up-or-down vote.
“I believe we can get 60 votes,” Feinstein said.
The decision by the White House to turn over more information on the drone program was credited for the panel’s action.
Prior to Tuesday’s vote, Collins had asked for assurances the administration was being completely transparent on the armed drone program.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday’s release of the legal justifications for the drone program was explicitly intended to “expedite confirmation” of the White House nominee.
“We have worked with the committee to provide information about legal advice, and we have worked with them to meet their concerns in what the present believes is a unique situation,” Carney said.
The Senate committee vote had been delayed twice after Brennan wrapped up his confirmation hearings before the panel last month.
Brennan is thought to be a key adviser on the drone program, which was established during his time at the CIA and later at the White House. The program has been greatly expanded over the last several years.
At his confirmation hearing last month, Brennan gave a forceful defense of the drone program, telling Intelligence Committee members that drones “dramatically reduce the danger to U.S. personnel and to innocent civilians.”
He argued that the CIA takes measures to prevent drones from causing unnecessary civilian deaths and rejected calls for more oversight of the drone program.
Republicans had also asked for more information about the White House’s initial response to last year’s terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), who led the push for more information on the Benghazi attack, said Tuesday that “we’ve about gotten all of the information” that Republicans wanted on the terrorist attack.
Panel members were granted access to the Benghazi documents last Tuesday, which showed Brennan had played a direct role in drafting the White House’s initial claims that the attack was not the work of terrorists.
Weeks after that, administration officials reversed course and admitted the consulate strike that ended with the deaths of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other Americans was a coordinated terrorist attack.
Brennan still faces hurdles to getting through the entire Senate.
Republicans not on the Intelligence panel have demanded more details about drones and Benghazi, and Feinstein said Democrats could be forced to call a cloture vote on the nomination. That would force supporters of Brennan to win 60 votes to end debate.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has threatened to filibuster Brennan’s nomination. He wants more answers from the administration on whether American citizens can be targeted by armed drones inside the United States.
Attorney General Eric Holder sent a letter to Paul on Tuesday saying the United States “has no intention” of carrying out drone strikes in the United States.
Such a scenario, according to Holder, is “entirely hypothetical [and] unlikely to occur.”
Feinstein said she was satisfied with Holder’s response, but acknowledged Paul was not.
--Jeremy Herb and Justin Sink contributed to this report.