Senate Republicans are on track to confirm several of President Barack Obama’s key Cabinet officials, despite weeks of protests and grandstanding from the GOP.
The process began Tuesday with a 58-41 confirmation vote for former Sen. Chuck Hagel to be secretary of Defense.
Hagel had been temporarily filibustered by GOP senators looking for more information on September’s terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya. Twelve days passed between the first procedural vote on Hagel on Feb. 14 and the final vote Tuesday, when his nomination cleared a second filibuster attempt, 71-28. It would have been unprecedented for the Senate to block a president’s choice for Defense secretary.
At the committee level, senators approved the nomination of former White House Chief of Staff Jacob J. Lew for Treasury secretary and are set to consider the more controversial pick of John O. Brennan for director of the CIA on Thursday.
The Senate Finance Committee advanced Lew’s nomination on a 19-5 vote Tuesday morning, with Republicans Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, Michael D. Crapo of Idaho, Pat Roberts of Kansas, John Cornyn of Texas and Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming voting in opposition. Lew has a prickly past with lawmakers of both parties; many members view him as just one of many current and former West Wing staffers who maintained icy relationships with the Hill through some of the most significant policy debates of the past two years. Lew also came under fire from Republicans for what they believed to be questionable personal investments and financial dealings, including a $650,000 bonus he received from New York University upon leaving his position as executive vice president in 2006. The bonus was first reported by The New York Times on Monday.
The Senate Intelligence Committee is set to vote on Brennan’s nomination Thursday, with Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., telling reporters that she would support him and expected others to do so too. As with Hagel’s nomination, Republicans are using the vote to install the top CIA official as an opportunity to acquire further documents from the White House on lingering national security issues. Brennan’s vote was delayed one week by Republicans looking for further information about Benghazi and the administration’s drone policy.
Feinstein said she still was not sure whether the committee would receive some of the additional legal memos the panel was seeking before Thursday’s vote. These memos lay out the legal justification for targeted killings — such as with armed drones — of U.S. citizens suspected of terrorism.