Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was hoping today would be his last day at the Pentagon. The White House was hoping it would have a new Defense Department secretary by Friday.
Not so fast.
It now looks like Democrats don’t have the votes to get Hagel confirmed, at least not yet.
That’s because Republicans are determined to block a straight up-or-down vote – at least for now – until Hagel turns over more information on his financial disclosure form and the Obama administration answers more questions about last year’s attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Democrats are attempting to force a clean vote by Friday, but will need 60 votes to overcome Republican objections. And, as of right now, top Senate Democratic aides say they fear they don’t have the votes.
Ultimately, it would seem that Hagel is a shoe-in: All 55 Senate Democrats support him and so do two Republicans (Sens. Mike Johanns of Nebraska and Thad Cochran of Mississippi). Three others have suggested they might oppose him but would not filibuster his nomination (Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Roy Blunt of Missouri, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska). Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has said the same thing.
But here’s the catch: Republicans are saying Hagel and the White House have stonewalled their requests for documents related to his nomination and that’s why they won’t allow a vote at this time.
Case in point: An aide to Blunt told ABC News that the senator does not think there should be a vote this week because Hagel, 66, has not turned over all the requested information and, Blunt believes, the Senate has not fully debated the nomination.
The most serious issue is a Feb.6 letter signed by 20 Senators demanding more information on his financial disclosure (speeches, foreign income, etc.) Hagel and the White House have refused to comply. Others, including Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., are demanding more information on Benghazi.
Panetta has made no secret of his desire to get back to his home in Monterey, Calif., but a senior Defense Department official told ABC News that Panetta is prepared to stay in office until Hagel is confirmed. It looks like Monterey will have to wait.
Bottom line: It’s no slam-dunk that Hagel will be confirmed this week.