OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Hagel filibuster up in the air

Before a filibuster can happen, Hagel will have to clear the Senate Armed Services Committee, which could hold a vote as early as this week. Democrats have a 14-12 advantage on the panel.

That vote could seal Hagel’s confirmation if he peels off a couple of Republicans — Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), for instance, has criticized Hagel but not said he will vote against him. The committee vote could also indicate that Hagel is headed for a rare party-line floor vote on a national security Cabinet nominee that could be threatened by a filibuster.

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Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said last week that the committee’s best-case scenario for holding a confirmation vote on Hagel was Thursday, when the panel has a hearing on last year’s attack in Benghazi, Libya.

Benghazi backlash, Part 2: Congressional Republicans apparently still can't get enough of hammering the White House's handing of the terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi.

In January, it was former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who was getting grilled on Capitol Hill, answering pointed questions on the Obama administration's actions to the strike, which left U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans dead. 

On Tuesday, it will be outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's turn in the hot seat, as members of the Senate Armed Services Committee prepare to take the DOD chief to task over the Pentagon's seemingly delayed reaction to the terrorist raid last September. 

Panetta’s testimony will satisfy the demands of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who last week had threatened to hold Hagel’s nomination unless Panetta testified on last year’s consulate raid, which took place on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. 

But Panetta sought to head off Republican attacks on DOD's involvement in the incident, taking to the Sunday talk shows to defend the White House's actions in response to the Benghazi raid. 

“This is not 9/11,” Panetta said in an interview on CNN's "State of the Union." “You cannot just simply call and expect within two minutes to have a team in place. It takes time.”

Panetta said the military moved troops to the area as quickly as it could.

“We deployed,” he said. “We knew there were problems there. We moved forces into place where we could deploy them quickly if we had to. They were ready to go.”

Like Clinton before him, Panetta — who was the former CIA director before coming to the Pentagon — laid the blame for DOD's response in Benghazi at the feet of the U.S. intelligence community. 

Clinton drew rave reviews for her performance on Capitol Hill during the Benghazi hearings. We will have to wait and see if Panetta can pull off a similar performance on Thursday. That said, Panetta won't be the only White House official in lawmakers' cross-hairs this week. 

Brennan heads to Capitol Hill: Confirmation hearings for White House counterterrorism chief John Brennan's nomination to become the new CIA director are also set for this week. 

Brennan will go before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Wednesday, where the nominee will likely face some tough questions on everything from the White House's expanded drone strike program to the intentional leaking of classified information to the media. 

If confirmed, Brennan will replace former CIA Director David Petraeus after the former four-star general stepped down as the nation's top spy amid news of an extramarital affair. 

The administration's last national security nominee, former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), was battered by fellow Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing to become the new Pentagon chief. 

While the tongue-lashing Hagel received during last Thursday's hearing at the hands of the GOP grabbed headlines, the fight over whether to send Brennan to Langley could be even more brutal. 

Most recently, Brennan has come under fire due to a spate of leaks detailing classified U.S. counterterrorism operations that made their way into U.S. and international media outlets in recent months and are under investigation by the Justice Department. The leaks have included information about a U.S. cyberattack on Iran, a terrorist “kill list” and a double agent operating in Yemen.

Lawmakers have also expressed serious concerns over Brennan's role in the detainee interrogation program under the George W. Bush White House and later leading the Obama administration's aggressive armed drone strike campaign. Those concerns prompted Brennan to turn down the nomination for CIA chief back in 2008. 

Taliban peace deal makes progress: Afghanistan and Pakistan took a significant step forward in their efforts to craft a viable peace deal for the Taliban on Monday. 

Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari finalized the terms of a formal Taliban peace process during a bilateral summit hosted by British Prime Minister David Cameron on Monday, according to recent news reports. 

The Afghan-Pakistan peace deal will focus on the creation of a new Taliban "office" in Doha, where representatives from the militant Islamic group can meet with counterparts from both countries, in an attempt to get the group's fighters to lay down their arms and participate in the Afghan central government. 

The creation of the Doha office was also a key discussion point between Karzai and President Obama during the Afghan leader's visit to Washington earlier this year. 

The Doha office is part of a "very detailed, five-phase approach" to getting the Taliban to the negotiation table drafted by the Karzai government, White House adviser Doug Lute said in January. 

A similar effort was pursued in Iraq in late 2004, when the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki sought to integrate radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and members of his Jaish al-Mahdi militia into the political process. 

While all sides praised the progress made in getting the Taliban to the negotiating table on Monday, the lack of an official Taliban representative to participate in this week's summit put a damper on those accomplishments. 


In Case You Missed It: 

— Air Force gets back into NASCAR

— DOD refueling French fighters in Africa

— US intel lacks assets to combat al Qaeda 

— Dems will bail on Hagel, says Inhofe


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