Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., said Monday that so far, he has not counted a single Democratic “no” vote on the question of whether former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel should be confirmed as Defense secretary.
Hagel, whose nomination has drawn fire from his fellow Republicans, is scheduled to appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday for his hearing. Though the session with the panel is expected to be testy, Hagel will likely clear that hurdle before facing a 60-vote threshold in the full Senate. But even Republican aides are quietly conceding he is likely to get the three-fifths majority he needs to prevent a filibuster.
“We did whip it. And the numbers were very positive on the Democratic side,” Durbin said of a preliminary vote count his office did last week of the Senate Democratic Conference’s 55 members.
“I didn’t whip the Republican side so I can’t say,” Durbin continued when asked whether he thought he could pick off at least five Republican votes to get to 60. “I need to do it again this week, but as of last week, we were doing very, very well among Democrats. There were no ‘no’ votes. There were some who wanted to wait until after his testimony.”
The controversy surrounding Hagel has centered comments he made about the “Jewish lobby” and concerns that he may not be pro-Israel enough. Some Republicans have also questioned his stance on engagement with Iran.
Public support from prominent Jewish Democrats — such as Sens. Charles E. Schumer of New York and Barbara Boxer of California — has helped tamp down potential Democratic defections, however.
Though the administration and Hill Democrats don’t always see eye to eye, the pervasive sense on Capitol Hill is that congressional Democrats don’t want this to be the fight they pick with the White House, particularly with larger battles on the budget, immigration and gun control on the horizon.
Republicans, too, are weighing whether the Hagel nomination is the right political battle to wage against the White House. Hagel has been actively courting Republicans in recent weeks.
Republican freshman Sen. Deb Fischer, from Hagel’s home state, is a newly minted member of the Armed Services Committee and will get to question him during this week’s proceedings. It would be a serious political statement if she and fellow Nebraska Republican Sen. Mike Johanns tried to filibuster Hagel’s nomination.
“I plan to closely review Senator Hagel’s record and look forward to meeting with him to discuss his views on America’s role in an increasingly dangerous world,” Fischer said in a statement earlier this month. “This process will be thorough and fair, and I look forward to participating in it.”