Levin sets Hagel vote for Tuesday afternoon, hours before State of the Union

Despite unyielding GOP opposition to Chuck Hagel becoming secretary of defense, the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman announced he had scheduled a vote for Tuesday afternoon on whether to move the nomination to the Senate floor.

Hagel’s nomination by President Obama has been marred by one unusual twist after another. Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) announced on Monday his intention to call an “open meeting” of the committee for the vote, rather than hold it during Tuesday morning's hearing on sequestration, featuring Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and other top brass.

“It is the chairman's intention to vote on the nomination after the members have an opportunity for discussion,” said Levin’s spokeswoman Tara Andringa, in a statement. “The location is to be determined and member offices will be advised of it as soon as possible.”

On Sunday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) threatened to put a hold on Hagel’s nomination unless the White House revealed more of what Obama knew during the Benghazi attack. That stall comes after Levin already gave in to Republican demands to hold or filibuster Hagel’s nomination unless Dempsey and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta testified on Benghazi. Levin gave them their hearing, but Republicans still complain they want more information. On Friday, Levin said enough was enough and vowed to hold the Hagel vote this week.

In what appears to be a Democratic strong-arm tactic to pressure the GOP,  the vote comes hours before Obama's State of the Union address. That forces the GOP to decide whether the committee vote is worth the fight -- and worth the chance that Obama would call them out in a major national speech. The GOP still could force a hold on the nomination on the Senate floor, but by many whip counts, Hagel has the votes to clear the full Senate.

Team Hagel hopes for final confirmation by Thursday, which could make his first day on the job as soon as this week. Friday votes are rare, and then the Senate is on recess until Monday, Feb 25. But the Pentagon hopes Hagel will be in place before the NATO meeting of defense ministers scheduled for the end of next week in Brussels.

UPDATE: Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) in a statement on Monday supported Levin’s decision to hold the vote, rejected calls for a Republican “walk out” and said that Hagel has provided enough information to the committee.

“I believe that [Hagel] has fulfilled the rigorous requirements that the committee demands of every presidential nominee to be secretary of defense,” he said, urging that the debate be continued on the Senate floor. “I will not participate in any walkout of tomorrow’s committee vote -- an action that would be disrespectful to Chairman Levin and at odds with the best traditions of the Senate Armed Services Committee."

McCain’s statement also is a rejection to Ranking Member Jim Inhofe (R-OK, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), and 23 other Republicans who had demanded Hagel disclose additional financial information. Levin objected to that demand on Friday, calling it excessive for any top level nominee and promising to hold a vote this week.

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call