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 CochranWilliam (Thad) Thad CochranGOP senators ask Trump to hold off on Venezuelan oil sanctions Both sides of the aisle agree — telemedicine is the future Overnight Finance: GOP offers measure to repeal arbitration rule | Feds fine Exxon M for Russian sanctions violations | Senate panel sticks with 2017 funding levels for budget | Trump tax nominee advances | Trump unveils first reg agenda MORE (Miss.) and Mike JohannsMike JohannsLobbying World To buy a Swiss company, ChemChina must pass through Washington Republican senator vows to block nominees over ObamaCare co-ops MORE (Neb.), say they will support Hagel. Sen. Susan CollinsSusan CollinsOPINION: Congress should censure Trump for his unfit conduct No. 2 Senate Republican backs McConnell in Trump fight The fight to protect the Affordable Care Act isn’t over MORE (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 McCainJohn McCainBush biographer: Trump has moved the goalpost for civilized society White House to pressure McConnell on ObamaCare McCain: Trump needs to state difference between bigots and those fighting hate MORE (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 GrahamLindsey GrahamGraham: Trump's Charlottesville rhetoric 'dividing Americans, not healing them' OPINION: Congress should censure Trump for his unfit conduct Supporting 'Dreamers' is our civic and moral duty MORE (R-S.C.), Kelly AyotteKelly AyotteRNC chair warns: Republicans who refused to back Trump offer 'cautionary tale' OPINION: Democracy will send ISIS to the same grave as communism Kelly Ayotte joins defense contractor's board of directors MORE (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 HatchOrrin HatchHatch urged Trump to ‘speak clearly’ against hate groups The Memo: Trump tries to quiet race storm Senators push FTC to finalize changes to contact lens rule MORE (Utah) and Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderTrump to make ObamaCare payments to insurers for August CBO: ObamaCare premiums could rise 20 percent if Trump ends payments CBO to release report Tuesday on ending ObamaCare insurer payments MORE (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 LevinCarl LevinPresident Trump, listen to candidate Trump and keep Volcker Rule Republicans can learn from John McCain’s heroism Trump and GOP wise to keep tax reform and infrastructure separate MORE (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 PaulRand PaulCurtis wins GOP primary for House seat vacated by Jason Chaffetz Glimmer of hope in bipartisan criminal justice reform effort Trump barrage stuns McConnell and his allies MORE (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 WydenRon WydenTrump's Democratic tax dilemma Senate Dems push Trump admin to protect nursing home residents' right to sue Overnight Finance: Trump-Russia probe reportedly expands to possible financial crimes | Cruel September looms for GOP | Senate clears financial nominees | Mulvaney reverses on debt ceiling MORE (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 ForbesRandy ForbesTrump makes little headway filling out Pentagon jobs Why there's only one choice for Trump's Navy secretary Trump likely to tap business executive to head Navy: report MORE (Va.) and Rob BishopRob BishopLawmakers push Interior to expand offshore drilling Trump’s new weapon? His Cabinet   Overnight Energy: GOP moves to reform Endangered Species Act MORE (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 HagelChuck HagelSpy agencies changed rules, making it easier to unmask members of Congress Pentagon withholding nuclear weapons inspection results: report Lobbying World MORE, 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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