OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Senate showdown over Hagel set for Friday

But Republicans argue they aren’t filibustering the nomination, only blocking the end of debate because they have outstanding requests for information from Hagel.

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Whether you call it a filibuster or not, it’s now a race to 60 votes by Friday for Hagel if he is going to be confirmed this week.

If the 55 Democrats and at least five Republicans vote to end debate on Hagel, then the final vote will be either Friday or Saturday. If not, then Hagel’s confirmation vote likely won’t happen until after the congressional recess next week.

So far, two Republicans, Sens. Thad Cochran (Miss.) and Mike Johanns (Neb.), say they will support Hagel. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said Wednesday she would oppose Hagel’s nomination but would vote in favor of cloture.

That leaves Hagel supporters just two votes away from securing his confirmation by the end of the week.

The likely targets are going to be senators who are concerned about the precedent a filibuster would set, such as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

McCain has threatened to block Hagel’s nomination not over the financial documents — he says Hagel has complied with committee requirements — but over the White House not responding to questions on the Benghazi attacks.

Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and McCain sent President Obama a letter this week asking him to detail what he personally did in response to the attack.

Other Republicans who had previously expressed opposition to a filibuster, including Sens. Orrin Hatch (Utah) and Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), said they would vote against cloture on Friday.

“If we can’t get reasonable requests fulfilled, it looks like I would vote against cloture,” Hatch said. “Not because it’s a filibuster, but because we’re not getting cooperation. 

“And I think we’ve got to have cooperation in these kinds of situations.”

But Democrats were having none of the GOP claims that delaying the vote was not a filibuster. “If they require a cloture vote, that’s either a filibuster or the threat of a filibuster,” Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said.

Hold up: As Senate Republicans square off against Democrats over the Hagel nomination, another high-profile national security nominee could find himself in legislative limbo as a result of partisan bickering in the upper chamber. 

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has threatened to put the brakes on the Obama administration's pick to head up CIA, White House counterterrorism chief John Brennan, until the Kentucky Republican gets more information on the armed drone strike program run by CIA and DOD. 

Brennan faced a contentious confirmation hearing last week, as lawmakers pressed him on the legality of using armed drone strikes against suspected terrorists, in particular American citizens. The increased congressional scrutiny followed the leak of a Justice Department (DOJ) memo laying out the circumstances in which the administration would authorize a deadly drone strike on a U.S. citizen.

On Wednesday, Paul joined the throng of lawmakers demanding that Brennan and the DOJ share its actual legal memos justifying the targeting of Americans abroad.

“I have asked Mr. Brennan if he believed that the President has the power to authorize lethal force, such as a drone strike, against a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil, and my question remains unanswered," Paul said in a statement. "I will not allow a vote on this nomination until Mr. Brennan openly responds to the questions and concerns my colleagues and I share.

Prior to last week's confirmation, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) made similar threats to stonewall the Brennan nomination until the DOJ memos were disclosed. In the end, the White House acquiesced to Wyden's demands, releasing the classified memos only to members of the Senate Intelligence Committee. 

But to Paul, that is not enough to get the nominee through the confirmation process.

"Before confirming Mr. Brennan as the head of the CIA, it must be apparent that he understands and will honor the protections provided to every American by the Constitution," he said. 

Blame game: Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday went on the offensive against the Pentagon's decision to hold off on sequestration planning, marking yet another flashpoint in the growing blame game between the White House and Capitol Hill. 

Republican Reps. Randy Forbes (Va.) and Rob Bishop (Utah) slammed DOD for its refusal to plan for the massive, across-the-board cuts tied to the White House's sequestration plan. "You are part of the problem ... you helped cause this," Bishop angrily told the DOD and military witnesses. 

"You had to realize there had to be some lead time" to adequately prepare for the heavy financial impact to the department via sequestration, the Utah Republican said, adding the "silence" from DOD regarding sequestration planning only added confusion to an already difficult situation. 

"You bear some of this responsibility, [and] there is a lot of blame to go around," Bishop said. 

Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter, Pentagon Comptroller Bob Hale, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey and the heads of the service branches appeared before the panel to again plead their case against the automatic budget cuts. 

Carter fired back at those accusations, telling Bishop and Forbes the Pentagon has been sounding the alarm on the devastating impacts of sequester ever since the law went on the books in 2011. 

"We have been describing the consequences of sequester for a very long time. We've been anticipating them. They're not hard to see," Carter said. "Planning isn't the problem [it's] never been the problem. The problem was doing something." 

When asked in September whether department officials had considered drafting two budgets — one reflecting normal Pentagon expenditures and another reflecting the $500 billion in automatic budget cuts under sequestration — the answer from DOD spokeswoman Lt. Col. Elizabeth Robbins was an emphatic "no."

In December, officials from the Office of Management and Budget finally directed DOD leaders to start assembling a framework to deal with the fiscal impacts of sequestration. 

Swan song: During his tenure at CIA and later the Pentagon, outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Wednesday that he leaves DOD with few regrets and disappointments. But, just like most people who come to the end of a long, storied career, there are always a few to look back on. 

And for Panetta, his biggest disappointment is the deteriorating relationship between the Pentagon and Congress. Appearing at his final press conference as Pentagon chief, Panetta lamented the increasing partisanship that has come to define debates about the military.

"The [necessary] partnership with the Congress and the ability to have Congress there, to be able to support what is being done to protect this country ... that bond is not as strong as it should be," Panetta told reporters at the Pentagon.

"Oftentimes I feel like I don't have a full partnership with my former colleagues on the Hill in trying to do what's right for this country," he said. 

As Congress and DOD continue to square off over issues from sequestration to the future of Panetta's successor, former Nebraska Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel, they do so with a sharper, vitriolic and distinctly more personal edge. 

These kinds of exchanges have come to characterize the difficult dynamic that exists between DOD and Congress, Panetta said.

"It's respect not just for that individual, but respect for the institution of the Congress. And somehow the members both in the House and Senate side have to get back to a point where they really do respect the institution that they're a part of.”

Changing the tone among the new class of lawmakers to one of mutual respect is the only way the Pentagon and the rest of the administration is going to get anything done in Washington.

"Somehow, some way, we have got to get back to that. We have got to get back to that for the sake of this country," Panetta said.


In Case You Missed It: 

-— Reid files cloture on Hagel confirmation vote

-— House GOP prep stopgap spending bill 

-— House Republicans blame DOD for sequester mess

-— Panetta laments broken bonds with Congress


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