OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Hagel’s hearing day is here

Hagel has met with dozens of senators in private one-on-one meetings already, so he has at least a little taste of which senators are going to ask about which topics. And he has been doing plenty of prepping before the hearing.

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One source close to Hagel’s confirmation said that he is very comfortable addressing his record and experience.

“He’s eager to have that opportunity,” the source said.

Hagel got a boost on Tuesday when Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), top Republican on the Appropriations Committee and Defense subcommittee, said he was backing Hagel.

Cochran is the first senator to cross party lines in a confirmation vote that has a dozen Democrats who have voiced their support and seven Republicans who say they will vote against Hagel.

Many other senators have given indications of where they stand — and some have not — but say they are waiting until Thursday’s hearing before making a final decision.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, went to the Senate floor Wednesday to attack Hagel ahead of the hearing. Cornyn said that Hagel’s nomination has already “done damage” to U.S. security.

Of course, Cornyn will not have a chance to question Hagel at Thursday’s hearing. He left the Armed Services Committee this year.

McKeon ‘awaits answers’ from Hagel: House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) has stayed mostly out of the Hagel fray, but he weighed in with a statement ahead of Thursday’s hearing.

“I hope Senator Hagel shows that he is willing to fight for our men and women in uniform as Secretaries Gates and Panetta did,” McKeon said. “I hope his lauded independent streak manifests itself in the form of skepticism over the White House approach. I cannot see supporting a nominee I don't believe puts the readiness and well being of the warfighters above all other concerns.

"Tomorrow, I hope to hear testimony from an advocate for a robust and well equipped military,” he said.

McKeon steered clear of the more controversial aspects of Hagel’s record and did not say he would oppose him, as House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) did when Hagel was nominated.

House members have no say in the confirmation of executive branch appointments. But if Hagel is confirmed, McKeon will be working closely with him in the Armed Services Committee. 

The sequester blame game: With little movement toward stopping sequestration before the cuts kick in March 1, today’s news that the GDP had shrunk kicked off a new round of blame-trading between the White House and Republicans.

“The GDP number we saw today was driven in part by — in large part by a sharp decrease in defense spending, the sharpest drop since I think 1972.  And at least some of that has to do with the uncertainty created by the prospect of sequester,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said at Wednesday’s press briefing.

“Talk about letting the sequester kick in as though that were an acceptable thing belies where Republicans were on this issue not that long ago, and it makes clear again that this is sort of political brinksmanship of the kind that results in one primary victim, and that's American taxpayers, the American middle class."

House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said Sunday that he thought sequester “is going to happen,” but he blamed Democrats for rejecting GOP proposals to avert the cuts.

Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), was quick to respond to Carney’s comments on Twitter.

“Times the House has passed legislation to replace the sequester with common sense cuts and reforms: Two. The Dem-controlled Senate: Zero,” Buck tweeted. 

Udall unhappy with Brennan: Hagel may be the Cabinet nominee who's attracting all the public attention, but President Obama's pick for CIA director, John Brennan, wasn’t making any new friends in the Senate on Wednesday.

Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) put out a statement saying he was “deeply disappointed” that Brennan was unprepared to discuss the findings of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s classified report on “enhanced interrogation techniques” used during the George W. Bush administration.

Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Ron Wyden and Udall met with Brennan Wednesday ahead of his confirmation hearing next week.

“Not only was he not prepared to discuss the important findings, but he hadn’t reviewed the report at all," Udall said in a statement. "Brennan promised today to review the findings before the Intelligence Committee’s confirmation hearing next Thursday. I intend to hold him to that promise.”

The report has become an important piece of evidence for opponents of torture, who say that it shows the CIA’s enhanced interrogation program did not yield intelligence that led to Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts. Some Bush-era CIA officials disagree.

Up next for Brennan is Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who meets with the CIA nominee on Thursday.

In Case You Missed It:

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— White House arms control official headed to Harvard

— Gitmo lawyers want access to classified facility

— Hagel will prepare for ‘all options’ against Iran

— Hunter wants to make gender-neutral standards law

 

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