OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Senate panel confirms Brennan

No Democrats on the panel voted against Brennan, while Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) was the only GOP member to admit publicly he opposed the nomination during the secret committee vote. 

Republican Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Susan Collins (Maine) voted to send Brennan's nomination to the full Senate for confirmation. 

"No one is better prepared to be CIA director than Mr. Brennan," committee chairwoman Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said in a statement shortly after the panel vote. "The CIA needs a confirmed director, and [Senate] Majority Leader [Harry] Reid is committed to moving quickly to schedule a vote."

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While several senators have noted Brennan's confirmation will not be as contentious as the one Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel went through, Feinstein noted a cloture vote could be necessary to get Brennan confirmed. 

The nominee still faces a filibuster threat from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who is opposed to Brennan's involvement in the White House's armed drone program. 

Recent Justice Department documents claim CIA and the Defense Department can carry out drone strikes against suspected terrorists abroad, even if those suspects are American citizens. 

Paul argues that justification could pave the way for drone strikes against U.S. citizens on American soil. 

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.

While Feinstein said Democrats may 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.

Armed Services committees start posture hearings: The annual trek of military brass traveling to Capitol Hill began again on Tuesday, as both the House and Senate Armed Services Committee’s started their budget posture hearings.

It’s a little different this year — there's no 2014 Pentagon budget request yet, however.

Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said it was just a bit “awkward,” although he did not plan to bring back the commanders who testified for a second round with a budget.

Committee aides said that it was necessary to get the hearings rolling, budget or no budget, so the defense authorization bill can stay on track timewise — and keep its 51-year streak of passage alive, of course.

The committees have reversed the order of appearances for the generals in order to deal with the lack of a Pentagon request, bringing in the combatant commanders first rather than the service chiefs and Defense secretary.

The chiefs of U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command testified before the Senate panel Tuesday, while the heads of U.S. Pacific Command and U.S. Strategic Command were before the House committee.

Committee aides say the combatant commanders are best to bring in first because those hearings are often focused more on policy than on the budget, as the posture hearings tend to be the only time of year the commanders testify before the Armed Services panels.

Afghan postwar plan comes into focus: The Pentagon is considering stationing more than 13,000 American troops in Afghanistan after U.S. and allied commanders officially end combat operations in the county next year, a top U.S. commander told Congress on Tuesday. 

Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, outgoing Central Command chief, said he recommended to the Pentagon and White House that a postwar force of 13,600 U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines remain in Afghanistan after the administration's 2014 withdrawal date. 

The post-war NATO force in Afghanistan would likely be half of the total U.S. forces Mattis recommended to DOD leaders, the four-star general told members of the Senate Armed Services panel on Tuesday. 

Gen. John Allen, former head of all U.S. forces in Afghanistan, suggested as few as 6,000 U.S. soldiers, or as many a 10,000, could remain in country after 2014. 

Senate Armed Services Committee chief Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said that 13,000 troop number will likely trend downward as the United States inches closer to the 2014 deadline. 

On Tuesday, he told The Hill he personally would like to see a force of between 5,000 to 10,000 troops, but noted talks with NATO and Kabul are still ongoing. 

President Obama announced the administration would be pulling out half of the 66,000 American service personnel in Afghanistan by this spring.

The final 32,000 American forces remaining in Afghanistan after this spring's planned troop withdrawal will start coming home following the country's presidential election in April 2014 — officially ending America's combat role there that same month, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said.

House to vote on CR Wednesday amid snow: Political disagreements aren’t the biggest thing threatening the House continuing resolution — the snowstorm barreling its way toward Washington is.

Or in this case, the “snowquester” storm could actually speed things along in the House.

The House will vote on Wednesday on the continuing resolution — which includes an appropriations bill for Defense — Republicans announced Tuesday, before the House flees town amid what’s expected to be the D.C. metro area’s biggest snowstorm of the year.

That means the stopgap spending bill will get a vote one day earlier than was initially planned.

As for the bill itself, some Democrats have said they are opposed, but Democratic leaders are not rallying opposition to the bill, and Senate Democrats said Tuesday they would accept the spending levels set in the Houe bill.


In Case You Missed it: 

— DOD brass make 'awkward' trip to Capitol Hill 

— Sequester sinks Obama approval ratings

— White House shares armed drone defense with Senate 

— McKeon rallies support for House budget plan


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