Week ahead: Panetta to testify on Benghazi

Panetta would be the second outgoing member of President Obama’s Cabinet to testify on the attack in an open hearing, following former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whose last day on the job was Friday.

Panetta’s testimony on Benghazi became a political issue for the Obama administration last week after Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) threatened to block the confirmation of Panetta’s potential successor, former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), unless the secretary testified.

While there had been little chatter on the Hill over Panetta testifying on the Benghazi attack, Levin said within hours of Graham’s threat that a hearing was in the works. Two days later, he had apparently secured Panetta.

The secretary will answer questions from the committee about the Pentagon’s role in the attack, in which four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, were killed.

Republican critics of the Obama administration’s response to the attack in Libya have questioned why military assets were not sent in to help. Panetta has said that the intelligence on the ground was too murky.

The committee’s hearing on Benghazi might not be the only thing happening Thursday, as Levin also said that the Armed Services panel might vote on Hagel’s confirmation.

Levin described a vote next week as a best-case scenario, saying that all of the paperwork and follow-up responses from Hagel would need to come in on time.

The committee had its confirmation hearing with Hagel last Thursday, where he faced an eight-hour grilling from Republicans. The vote on his confirmation is expected to fall mostly on party lines in the committee, where Democrats hold a 14-12 advantage.

Levin said even if Hagel is voted out of committee this week, he did not have a timeline for when Hagel’s confirmation would move to the full Senate.

The Senate Intelligence Committee will be questioning its own Cabinet nominee this week, as the confirmation hearing for the president’s pick to lead the CIA — White House counterterrorism advisor John Brennan — is slated for Thursday.

Brennan’s nomination is not as controversial as Hagel’s in the Senate, but he still faces tough questions on a number of topics, including the Bush administration-era “enhanced interrogation” program, the use of drones and national security leaks.

The House returns to Washington this week, but it will be a short and mostly slow week for the lower chamber because the Democrats have their retreat scheduled for the end of the week.

The House Armed Services Committee does not have any hearings planned, and the House Veterans Affairs Committee is holding two subcommittee hearings on Tuesday: “Analyzing VA’s Actions to Prevent Legionnaire’s Disease in Pittsburgh” and “The 100% Temporary Disability Rating: An Examination of Its Effective Use.”