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Can Hagel Confirmation Get Through Committee?

The Washington Post published a whip count this morning of where senators on the Armed Services Committee stand on Chuck Hagel’s nomination. By the afternoon, Bill Nelson had also joined the “yeas”–a key victory for Hagel supporters, since Nelson was seen as a Democrat who could have crossed over. That’s seven likely “no” votes and six likely “yes” votes so far. 

Here the latest breakdown (the rest are undecided): 

No votes: Lindsey Graham, Roger Wicker, Ted Cruz, David Vitter.

Leaning ‘no’: Jim Inhofe, John McCain, Kelly Ayotte

Yes votes: Bill Nelson

Near-certain ‘yes’ votes: Jack Reed, Mazie Hirono

Leaning ‘yes’: Carl Levin, Claire McCaskill, Joe Manchin 

Democrats have the advantage, since there are 14 of them on Armed Services and only 12 Republicans. Still, it’s possible Hagel’s nomination could be killed in committee. If every GOP member and just one Democrat opposes him, there would be a deadlock and the nomination wouldn’t be sent to the floor. With Nelson backing Hagel, another possible crossover would be Kirsten Gillibrand, who is still undecided.

It’s hard to predict what will happen if the nomination does make it to the floor, because we don’t know what will come out during the committee hearings. Hagel’s entire record–his finances, board affiliations, meeting transcripts, associates, etc., etc.–will be picked over by the media and opposition researchers. He will likely have to answer uncomfortable questions during the hearings as well. There’s a chance no more damaging information will be uncovered, and he’ll respond to all the questions perfectly. But this is Washington. It’s much more likely he’ll come out looking worse in the end, not better.

Senate Democrats still haven’t rallied behind Hagel, while Republican opposition is growing. The longer the confirmation battle, the more potential pitfalls for Hagel — and if there is a filibuster, which is very possible, the administration will need to secure 60 votes to get the confirmation. 

“If there’s nothing more that comes out, they might be able to squeak him across,” one senior Senate aide told me this afternoon, but noted there was “no room for error in this nomination fight.”