Senators agreed on a path toward confirmation of Chuck Hagel as secretary of defence, after Republicans said they will drop opposition to acting on the nomination once lawmakers return from a weeklong break.
An initial effort today to cut off debate fell short of the 60 votes needed because Republicans demanded more time. The vote on the so-called cloture motion was 58-40.
"I will vote on cloture the day we get back, and I believe enough of my colleagues will do the same," Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican who has led criticism of Senator Hagel, said on the Senate floor. Other Republicans, including Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, also said they would support acting on the nomination after the Senate returns on February 25.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said he scheduled the initial vote Thursday because Republicans have engaged in "one stall after another" on Senator Hagel. He said the next vote on ending debate would be held February 26.
President Barack Obama's choice of Senator Hagel, 66, to replace retiring Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has been challenged by Republicans because of Senator Hagel's past opposition to unilateral sanctions against Iran, his comments about the influence of what he once called "the Jewish lobby," and his opposition to the 2007 US troop surge in Iraq.
Once debate is cut off, Senator Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska, will have the majority he needs for confirmation because Democrats control 55 votes in the 100-member Senate.
In only two previous cases has a Cabinet nominee required 60 votes to overcome a filibuster on the Senate floor, according to Betty Koed, the chamber's associate historian. They were President Ronald Reagan's 1987 pick for Commerce Secretary, C. William Verity, and President George W. Bush's 2006 choice of Dirk Kempthorne to be Interior Secretary. Both overcame the higher vote threshold to win confirmation.