OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Hagel gets a grilling

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said that he thought Hagel had done “very well” — when he was allowed to answer questions without getting cut off.

“I thought he was responsive. I thought he kept his cool,” Levin said.

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Republicans on the committee were less impressed.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he was “shocked” at Hagel’s inability to respond to GOP questions, while Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was dismayed at Hagel’s refusal to answer his question on the Iraq surge.

The exchange between Hagel and McCain was the most heated of the day. McCain wanted a “yes-or-no” answer from Hagel on whether he believed the Iraq surge was still the wrong strategy.

Read The Hill’s coverage of Hagel’s defense of his record, the Republican attacks on the nominee and Hagel’s shaky performance.

Committee vote could come next Thursday: Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said that former Sen. Chuck Hagel's (R-Neb.) confirmation vote in the committee could come as early as Thursday, although he said that was still tentative at best.

He said the Thursday vote could happen following a hearing on Benghazi that has been set up for next Thursday.

That would be contingent in part on whether Hagel had answered all senators’ questions that were submitted for the record by Monday evening, Levin said.

The Armed Services chairman wouldn’t predict when Hagel might get a vote on the floor, saying that was up to the leadership.

McKeon opposed to Hagel: The House Armed Services Committee chairman came out against former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) in a statement Thursday afternoon, saying the Defense nominee had “created more concerns than he allayed.”

“Unfortunately, in confusing and contradictory testimony, he created more concerns than he allayed,” Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said in a statement. “His refusal to shut the door on further defense cuts put him at stark odds with the current Defense Secretary and military leaders. His ambiguous and evolving positions on Iran raised more questions than answers. And his shifting, evasive answers on the future of America's nuclear deterrent were deeply troubling.”

McKeon, of course, does not get to vote on Hagel’s confirmation as a House member. But he joins House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) as being on record against Hagel’s confirmation.

Panetta to testify at Benghazi hearing: Current Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will testify at the Armed Services Committee hearing on Benghazi that’s set up for next week, committee aides confirmed to The Hill.

Panetta’s testimony on the roll of the Pentagon in last year’s Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. facility in Benghazi, Libya, will nullify the threat made by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) this week to block former Sen. Chuck Hagel's (R-Neb.) nomination for Defense secretary.

Graham had threatened to block Hagel unless Panetta testified on Benghazi.

The Benghazi hearing could be Panetta’s last trip up to Capitol Hill as Defense secretary.


In Case You Missed It:

— Hagel delivers shaky performance

— Rubio says he will vote against Hagel

— Gitmo judge bans outside censors

— Biden defends Hagel, Kerry


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