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Democrats and Republicans are set for a Friday morning showdown over Chuck Hagel's nomination to become U.S. defense secretary, with the Democratic leader saying his GOP colleagues are mounting a "full-scale filibuster."
Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced Thursday that Republican leaders have indicated Reid will not have the five Republicans he needs Friday to end debate on the nomination. Reid says Republicans are trying to kill the nomination by seeking a never-ending amount of information, aiming to break the Obama administration's will.
But Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., told reporters Thursday that "there will be a vote tomorrow, at nine o'clock [a.m.] or so" to stop debate and move to a vote on the nomination, which would only need a majority of senators.
"I just hope we have the votes to end debate," Levin said. Asked if senior Democrats would postpone the vote, "I expect there will be a cloture vote tomorrow regardless of whether the votes are there or not," Levin said. "I hope they are."
Democrats need 60 votes to end debate. There are 55 members of the Democratic caucus, meaning Levin and Reid need five Republicans to vote with Democrats to cease floor debate and move to a final vote.
"My Republican colleagues had led us to believe they would not filibuster Sen. Chuck Hagel's confirmation of as Secretary of Defense. But that has changed," Reid said in a statement. "Now, Senate Republicans have made it clear they intend to mount a full-scale filibuster, and block the Senate from holding a final passage vote on Sen. Hagel's nomination."
Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., has said all week that insisting on a 60-vote margin was not a formal filibuster.
But now that GOP leaders have convinced at least one of a handful of their senators who had indicated they would vote with Democrats to end debate Friday to reverse his position, Reid says a true filibuster is underway.
"Make no mistake: Republicans are trying to defeat Sen. Hagel's nomination by filibustering while submitting extraneous requests that will never be satisfied," Reid said.
Republican SASC members have for weeks requested more information from Hagel on his personal finances, and from the White House on President Barack Obama's actions during and after the Benghazi, Libya, attack. GOP senators say once they have this data, they'll agree to a floor vote on Hagel.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., sent the White House a letter requesting the Benghazi information. But Reid and McCain said Thursday the White House reply went to SASC Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich.
Asked if he has seen and is satisfied by the response, McCain twice told Defense News: "You'll have to ask Sen. Levin."
But one of the other Benghazi data-seekers, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told reporters he has reviewed the White House letter and is "generally" satisfied with its contents.
But if there is a vote on Friday, "I'll vote no," he said.
"This is just arrogance on steroids," Graham said. "There's more than just a letter," he said.
Graham made clear GOP senators still want Hagel to submit additional information about his personal finances — more information than other defense nominees are required to do so by the SASC. They are worried he might have conflicts of interest after getting funds from foreign sources and defense firms.
Republicans also are insisting they obtain videos of paid speeches Hagel has given since he left the Senate.
"I'm going to lodge my strong disapproval of how they are handling this," Graham said. "We had a vote Tuesday on the nomination in committee, and [they're] going to invoke cloture on Thursday. Members of my party have not had the opportunity to evaluate this nomination. There's relevant information not supplied. C'mon."
Graham said he had been told by GOP leaders that "we'd have a vote after the recess." The Senate is not in town next week after Monday's President's Day federal holiday.
"I think they're jamming us," Graham said.
If a Friday vote is held, Democrats could be betting that enough Republicans would favor approving Hagel and getting started on the recess break in their home states.
Asked if he thinks Hagel will eventually become defense secretary, even if the filibuster cannot be broken on Friday, Hagel-backer Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., shrugged and said: "I'm an optimist."
Should the vote to end the filibuster fail on Friday, would that kill Hagel's nomination? "No," Graham said pointedly, moving into an elevator.