McConnell not ruling out Hagel filibuster, says opposition to nominee ‘intensifying’

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellRyan seeks to put stamp on GOP in Trump era Trump and Ryan to speak by phone Bill would require nominees to release tax returns MORE (R-Ky.) refused to rule out a GOP filibuster of former Sen. Chuck HagelChuck HagelHagel says NATO deployment could spark a new Cold War with Russia Overnight Defense: House panel unveils 5B defense spending bill Hagel to next president: We need to sit down with Putin MORE (R-Neb.) in an interview with a local Kentucky TV station this weekend.

McConnell said it was “not clear yet” whether Hagel’s confirmation to become President Obama’s next Defense secretary would be filibustered, and said opposition to Hagel was “intensifying.”

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“Sen. Hagel did not do a very good job before the Armed Services Committee this week,” McConnell told Kentucky’s cn|2. “I think the opposition to him is intensifying. Whether that means he will end up having to achieve 60 votes or 51 is not clear yet.”

McConnell’s remarks could add new fuel to a potential filibuster of a Cabinet nominee, an unprecedented step in the Senate. An aide to the No. 2 Senate Republican, Minority Whip John CornynJohn CornynSenate amendments could sink email privacy compromise Senate GOP ties Iran sanctions fight to defense bill Senate votes to block financial adviser rule MORE (R-Texas), said Friday that “all options are on the table” when asked about a filibuster.

Hagel was skewered by Republicans at his confirmation hearing last week, and several GOP lawmakers said they would oppose him afterward. But he will almost assuredly be confirmed if Republicans do not filibuster, as no Democrats have come out against his confirmation and they hold a 55-45 advantage in the Senate.

Even if Republicans do attempt a filibuster, Hagel could secure enough votes to break it. Sen. 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 (R-Neb.) became the second Republican senator to say he would support Hagel after Sen. Thad CochranThad CochranSenate votes to block USDA catfish inspections GOP senators: Obama bathroom guidance is 'not appropriate' First US Zika death reported in Puerto Rico MORE (R-Miss.) endorsed him last week.

McConnell has not said how he will vote on Hagel's confirmation, but told cn|2 he would announce his decision soon. McConnell, who served with Hagel in the Senate, called his former colleague a "smart, capable guy" in an interview last week before the confirmation hearing.

The first step for Hagel’s confirmation is a committee vote, which could come as early as this week. Democrats hold a 14-12 advantage on the committee.