Senate GOP sees smoother ride for Brennan nomination

Senate Republicans said the confirmation process for John Brennan, the White House pick to head the CIA, will go much smoother than the bitter, partisan fight that embroiled the ultimately successful confirmation of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

"I am sure there is going to be some opposition, but I do not think it is going to be as intense as it was with Secretary Hagel," Senate intelligence committee members Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) told The Hill on Thursday.

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Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said there were very few parallels between GOP opposition to Hagel's confirmation and Senate Republicans' frustrations over the Brennan nomination.

Those differences, he added, all but guarantee the White House counterterrorism chief will have a smoother path toward confirmation, once the full Senate takes up the bid. 

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is scheduled to vote on the Brennan nomination next week. If approved by the committee, the nomination would go before the full Senate. After highly contentious hearings and a filibuster, the Senate confirmed Hagel on Tuesday, 58-41.

"There was a lot of opposition, due to qualifications" over the Hagel bid, according to Grassley. "I do not think you are going to have [the same] opposition over qualifications for Brennan."

The main GOP opposition to Brennan, Grassley said, is rooted in the ongoing battle between Senate Republicans and the White House over information on the CIA's armed drone program and Brennan's participation in the White House's initial response to last September's terror attack in Benghazi, Libya. 

"I think everyone feels Brennan is qualified, they may not like him, but he is qualified," Grassley added.

But the growing frustration among committee members over the White House's disclosure delays was quickly reaching a breaking point, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told reporters on Thursday.

"I am not particularly interested in holding up [Brennan's] nomination," McCain said. He added, however, that given the administration's lackluster response to queries from Capitol Hill, lawmakers "deserve answers" on both drones and Benghazi.

That frustration prompted intelligence committee chief Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to postpone the panel's vote on Brennan's nomination to next week, a Senate aide told The Hill.

This is the second time committee members have opted to delay a vote on Brennan's confirmation since his hearings began before the panel on Feb. 7. The intelligence committee had been expected to vote on the nomination Thursday.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), the ranking member on the intelligence panel, is leading the review of recently released Benghazi documents to committee members.

Those documents, according to Chambliss, show Brennan had a direct role in drafting the White House talking points on the attack, which defended the initial protest-gone-wrong scenario in Benghazi.

The attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi ended with the deaths of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.

Weeks later, administration officials reversed course and admitted the consulate strike was a coordinated attack by Islamic extremists operating in Libya.

For their part, the White House has "done a pretty good job over the past 48 hours" in providing Congress information on the Benghazi attack and Brennan's role in the White House response, Chambliss said, referring to the documents which were released Tuesday.

However, "we have not gotten all of the documents yet," Chambliss said.

He refused to comment on what other information the committee was seeking and whether it focused strictly on Benghazi or the White House's armed drone program.

"It's a combination of documents," Chambliss said, adding he was confident the Obama administration would hand over all the materials requested by the committee no later than Friday.

"They are documents that should have been produced [to the committee] long ago," he added.

On Thursday, Feinstein said she was "assured the second set [of information] is forthcoming" from the White House, adding the committee vote delay would give members "time to digest" the new information.

"I was assured as late as last night in conversations with the White House that it was going to be provided," she added, noting the incoming information would be classified.

When asked if the disclosures would be enough to get the Brennan nomination moving forward, Feinstein replied: "That's my hope."

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