OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Senate confirms Hagel

On Tuesday, eight Republicans voted to end debate, providing Hagel with more than enough cushion to break the required 60-vote cloture threshold.

Republicans said that Hagel was going to have to prove himself in the job, because the bloody confirmation fight left him in a weakened position.

“I think he will be entering as weak, because of his performance [in the confirmation hearing],” Graham told reporters Tuesday.

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Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said that while the final vote wasn’t “as great a majority as we would have liked,” Hagel would not be harmed in his new role.

“I just don’t see any negative effect on his capability to run the Defense Department,” Levin said.

The timing for Hagel will certainly test him, as sequestration is set to begin three days after his confirmation.The Nebraska Republican is wasting no time, as he will be sworn in and start on the job on Wednesday, according to an aide.

"I am honored that President Obama and the Senate have entrusted me to serve our nation once again,” Hagel said in a statement after the vote. “I will work closely with Congress to ensure that we maintain the strongest military in the world and continue to protect this great nation."

Paul surprises with 'yes' vote: Three Republicans had said before Tuesday’s vote they would support Hagel, but Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) made it four GOP "yes" votes.

Paul had voted against cloture two weeks ago and on Tuesday morning. But he said that he ended up supporting Hagel because the president gets prerogative in choosing his political appointees.

“I voted no because I wanted more information, and I think that part of the advise and consent part of what the Senate does is try to get information about Senate nominees,” Paul told reporters after the vote. “I’ve said all along that I give the president some prerogative in choosing his political appointees.”

GOP says Brennan tied to ‘talking points’: GOP lawmakers say White House counterterrorism chief John Brennan's is connected to the altered “talking points” from last year’s attack in Benghazi, Libya, that has threatened Brennan’s nomination to be the next CIA chief.

On Tuesday, the Senate Intelligence Committee viewed confidential emails surrounding last September's terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi that ended with the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other American citizens.

Those emails, according to lawmakers, directly tied Brennan to the administration's decision to initially claim the attack was the result of a popular protest gone awry, and not an organized attack by terror groups in Libya.

“Brennan was involved,” Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) said after the briefing. “It's pretty obvious what happened.”

“At the end of the day it should have been pretty easy to determine who made the changes and what changes were made," he added.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said "there's still gaps in the information," about Brennan's role in drafting the White House talking points alleging the protest scenario in Benghazi.

That said, senators claim Tuesday's revelations did not and will not sway their decision on whether to confirm Brennan's bid to lead CIA.

“The information today is unrelated to my personal decision on Brennan,” Collins said.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence panel, said Brennan's involvement was “small” and should play no part in his confirmation. The committee is scheduled to vote on the Brennan nomination on Thursday.

Some Senate Republicans have threatened to hold up Brennan’s nomination unless they get more information from the White House on Benghazi.

A slippery slope in Afghanistan: The removal of U.S. special forces from a violent province in central Afghanistan could be the beginning in a slew of restrictions on American forces by Kabul that will hamstring operations until the final withdrawal of U.S. forces in 2014, one House lawmaker warned.

The decision by Afghan President Hamid Karzai to kick out the special forces teams from Wardak province could indicate a trend among Afghan leaders at the national and local level of playing to the growing anti-American sentiment within the country, Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) told The Hill.

Thornberry, who chairs the House Armed Services Emerging Threats and Intelligence subcommittee, said he was "worried" these type of knee-jerk decisions restricting American operations in the run-up to the 2014 withdrawal could place U.S. and allied forces at risk.

Karzai ordered U.S. special forces to leave Wardak, alleging American troops had committed torture and abducted civilians during their time in the province.

Top U.S. and NATO commanders met with Afghan counterparts on Monday in Kabul to discuss those allegations, Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Anne Edgecomb told The Hill on Monday.

Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, will lead negotiations on the joint commission on the American side with "consultations underway in Kabul right now," DOD press secretary George Little told reporters on Tuesday.


In Case You Missed It:

— Senate GOP divided on sequester plan

— White House defends Afghan progress

— Obama warns of self-inflicted wound

— Intel panel drops ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ inquiry

— Reid: GOP wasted 12 days on Hagel


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