Whether the senators’ letter will have any impact on Hagel’s prospects remains unclear. White House spokesman Jay Carney said the senators and their letter put “political posturing above national security,” and Hagel got a boost Thursday when Richard Shelby (R) of Alabama said in a newspaper interview that he expects to vote in favor of confirmation.
Senator McCain, a prominent member of the Armed Services Committee, said last week that he does not believe Hagel is qualified for the Pentagon job but that he thought the nomination would proceed to a vote once Congress is back in session next week. Senator Ayotte, a rising Republican voice on security issues, already voted once to block a Hagel confirmation vote.
On a simple yea-or-nay vote, Hagel would need the support of 51 senators, a threshold he would be expected to pass given the 55-member Senate Democratic Caucus.
A vote on Hagel is now expected next week – but not before the political wrangling that forced Panetta to make a last trip as Pentagon chief.
Before Panetta’s meetings at NATO Thursday and Friday, Pentagon press secretary George Little told reporters in Brussels that Panetta would warn his NATO counterparts that across-the-board US spending cuts set to take effect March 1 will affect American military readiness and US contributions to the alliance.