Final Panetta press briefing expected Wednesday

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Gen. Martin Dempsey, Joint Chiefs chairman, expect to come out for their final Pentagon press briefing together on Wednesday afternoon, the E-Ring has learned, one day after President Obama’s State of the Union Address.

It’s hoped in the building to be Panetta’s final briefing, but that could be wishful thinking. Panetta’s fate now depends on whether Chuck Hagel’s nomination can make it past the Senate Armed Services Committee in a contentious Tuesday afternoon vote -- and whether the GOP then drops its threats and allows a Senate floor vote before the President's Day recess. If not, Panetta’s likely stuck in the job through February and could be heading to Brussels next week for a NATO meeting of defense ministers.

Dempsey just returned from a weekend trip to Kabul, where he attended the ceremony in which Gen. John Dunford assumed command of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) from Gen. John Allen.

Dempsey will return to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday morning to testify on the effects of the sequester threat to the military, alongside other service chiefs, Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, and Bob Hale, the DOD comptroller. Panetta and Dempsey faced tough questioning in the committee just last week on Benghazi. Ranking Member Jim Inhofe (R-OK) left the hearing claiming their testimony “proves” a White House cover-up over whether the president knew the attack was a terrorist event.

The two men also revealed the Pentagon had favored arming Syrian rebels, a position not held by the White House. Dempsey walked back that assertion as just preliminary talk, but you can bet is likely to be just one of the contentious topics Panetta and Dempsey will answer to at Wednesday’s briefing.

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