The Senate will vote Thursday to end debate on former Sen. Chuck HagelChuck HagelThe 13-year wait for 2 widows and a congressman comes to an end Petraeus doubts Syria can be put back together again Obama’s unsettled legacy on Iraq and Afghanistan MORE's nomination to be Defense secretary, a vote headed for failure.
Sixty votes would be needed to end debate and move to a final up-or-down vote on Hagel, but Democrats do not have the necessary support.
Republican leaders in the Senate have told Senate Democrats they will withhold enough votes to prevent a 60-vote majority, according to a Senate Democratic leadership aide. And Republicans left their party lunch in the Capitol on Thursday saying they had enough support to block a vote this week because they felt they were not given enough time to consider Hagel's nomination.
Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidOvernight Energy: Dems block energy spending bill for second day Senate GOP hardening stance against emergency funding for Zika Senate Dems block spending bill over Iran amendment — again MORE (D-Nev.) had set the vote for Friday, but moving it up to Thursday would allow senators to conclude their business and start a long recess early. The Senate is set to be out next week for Presidents Day recess.
The move means Hagel will not be confirmed before a NATO meeting next week about the Afghanistan war. Retiring Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has pledged to stay on duty until Hagel is confirmed.
This is the first time a nominee for the top Pentagon job has been subject to a filibuster, a fact that highlights how contentious Hagel's nomination has become. Hagel's views on Iran, Iraq and Israel led to a fiery debate over his nomination. He went through a rough confirmation hearing last week, enduring tough questions from Republican senators and turning in an uneven performance.
Since then, Republicans have demanded more information about speeches the nominee gave and his compensation for them. Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzTrump kicks off California campaign Curt Schilling backs Trump: 'I need him to start acting like a leader' Trump launches negative ad against Cruz in Indiana MORE (R-Texas) at a hearing this week suggested the speeches were given to extreme or radical groups, a statement some Democrats have criticized.
The White House blasted the Republican filibuster attempt as "unconscionable."
"We urge the Republicans in the Senate to drop their delay," White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters aboard Air Force One as the president headed to Georgia. "There is a clear majority in the United States Senate for Sen. Hagel's confirmation. These delaying tactics are unconscionable, and they should end right away."
"Next week there is a defense ministerial meeting in Brussels, where the U.S. will meet with our allies, who are making important contributions to our effort in Afghanistan, to talk about the transition in Afghanistan," Earnest said. "We need our new defense secretary to be there. It does not send a favorable signal for Republicans in the United States Senate to delay a vote on the president's nominee, a nominee who's a member of their own party. It's difficult to explain to our allies exactly why that's happening."
Reid's decision to hold the Thursday night vote capped a day of maneuvering by both parties.
Reid stepped up pressure Thursday for Republicans to allow an up-or-down vote, arguing it would leave the U.S. without a Defense secretary.
“We, at 12 o’clock today, do not have a secretary of Defense,” Reid said on the Senate floor Thursday morning. “It is shocking that our Republicans colleagues would leave our nation without a secretary of Defense with all the things going on and when we’re in a war.”
Multiple senators — including Sens. John McCainJohn McCainOvernight Defense: House panel approves 0B defense bill McCain fundraiser faces felony drug charges in Arizona GOP senator blocks Obama Army nominee over Guantanamo MORE (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamGOP warms to Trump Trump address gets mixed reaction from GOP Graham tears into Trump’s ‘pathetic’ foreign policy speech MORE (R-S.C.) — said they only would vote to proceed with confirmation after the Presidents Day recess.
“There’s a good many of us who believe tomorrow is ridiculous because he just came out of committee two days ago,” Graham said of ending debate on Hagel on Friday. “But when we come back, I’d feel very comfortable, unless something really stunning comes out, to go to vote.”
All 55 senators who caucus with Democrats are expected to support Hagel, and Sen. Susan CollinsSusan CollinsSanders is most popular senator, according to constituent poll Senate Dem takes on drugmaker: ‘It’s time to slaughter some hogs’ GOP blocks slate of Obama judicial nominees MORE (R-Maine) has said she will not support a filibuster.
Two other Republicans, Sens. Mike JohannsMike JohannsTo buy a Swiss company, ChemChina must pass through Washington Republican senator vows to block nominees over ObamaCare co-ops Revisiting insurance regulatory reform in a post-crisis world MORE (Neb.) and Thad CochranThad CochranOvernight Healthcare: Medicare fight looms on Capitol Hill Senate GOP hardening stance against emergency funding for Zika Overnight Healthcare: More trouble for Zika funding MORE (Miss.), support Hagel's nomination. But only one of them has signaled so far he will vote for cloture.
A Johanns aide said that the Nebraska senator will vote to end debate, but an aide to Cochran told The Hill on Thursday that he has not said anything specific on the cloture vote.
Collins said Thursday that she was not lobbying her colleagues to vote for cloture.
“Everybody has to make his or her own decision,” she said.
Democrats spent part of Thursday searching for more Republican votes to reach 60, and were hopeful that the White House’s response on Benghazi to McCain, Graham and Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly AyotteJohn Bolton PAC pours more cash into GOP campaigns Dem campaign arm: Poll numbers slipping for vulnerable Republicans Senate panel clears 'Internet of Things' bill MORE (R-N.H.) might convince them to vote for cloture.
McCain has linked his vote to end debate on Hagel to receiving information from the administration on why the military did not respond to the terrorist attack last year on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. On Thursday, he said that his concerns over Benghazi were "largely satisfied" by a letter sent from the White House on Wednesday.
But McCain declined to say how he would vote on cloture, saying that negotiations were ongoing to address the concerns other senators had over Hagel's financial disclosures.
In the letter, obtained by The Hill, the White House wrote that then-Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonShonda Rhimes: Election crazier than plot of 'Scandal' Sanders cutting spending in Indiana Overnight Defense: House panel approves 0B defense bill MORE called the Libyan president the night of the attack. The GOP senators had asked whom Obama had spoken with in the Libyan government that night.
Reid said it would reflect poorly on the United States that a secretary of Defense would not be representing the country at the meeting in Brussels.
“Republicans are telling our troops, ‘Well, you can have a leader later. The meeting in Brussels doesn’t really matter,’ ” Reid said.
— Published at 10:27 a.m. and updated at 3:19 p.m.
Carlo Munoz contributed.