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

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP senator blocking Trump's Intel nominee Spending bill delay raises risk of partial government shutdown support GOP leaders to Trump: Leave Mueller alone MORE (R-Ky.) refused to rule out a GOP filibuster of former Sen. Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelIntel chief: Federal debt poses 'dire threat' to national security Hagel: Trump is 'an embarrassment' Tax cut complete, hawks push for military increase 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.”

“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 CornynWhite House officials expect short-term funding bill to avert shutdown Spending bill delay raises risk of partial government shutdown support GOP leaders to Trump: Leave Mueller alone 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 JohannsMichael (Mike) Owen JohannsFarmers, tax incentives can ease the pain of a smaller farm bill Lobbying World To buy a Swiss company, ChemChina must pass through Washington MORE (R-Neb.) became the second Republican senator to say he would support Hagel after Sen. Thad CochranWilliam (Thad) Thad CochranMississippi gov to fill Cochran seat with agriculture commissioner: report GOP leaders see finish line on omnibus deal McDaniel to run for open Senate seat in Miss. rather than challenge Wicker 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.