UPDATED: Hagel two votes short; Reid sets showdown for Friday; DOD says Panetta not retiring yet

High noon for Chuck Hagel is coming on Friday morning.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) opened Thursday’s Senate floor session by announcing he will test the Republicans’ filibuster threat and call for a vote to end debate over Hagel’s nomination on Friday morning.

To end debate will require 60 votes. Senate Republicans claim they have the votes to effectively block Hagel’s confirmation, though many concede by now that Hagel is a lock for the job. Democrats believe the handful of votes they need will come, but they are not there yet.

"Senate Republican leadership has informed us that they intend to withhold the votes needed to clear cloture and proceed to a final passage vote on the Hagel nomination," a Senate Democratic leadership aide told reporters in an email, following Reid's announcement.

"We need two more votes to get to 60. That’s the state of play right now," said an official working on Hagel's nomination. Democrats have 55 votes, plus Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME), Thad Cochran (R-MS), and Mike Johanns, from Hagel's home state of Nebraska.

Republicans argue they first want more information on Hagel’s financial records. Democrats say conservatives are just stalling the inevitable, in a political hit designed only to weaken President Obama and his Pentagon nominee.

"I would also point out that many of the same Republicans who are threatening to hold up Senator Hagel’s nomination have been outspoken opponents of those tactics in the past with cabinet nominees. Just underscores how blatantly political this whole exercise is," the official said.

The official provided past examples of today's Senate Republican leaders arguing against the very tactic they are now attempting. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), minority leader, said in 2005, "I think the president is entitled to an up-or-down -- that is simple majority-vote on nominations… the filibuster was not used for 200 years. The country did just fine."

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), also argued against a filibuster threat for John Bolton as United Nations ambassador in 2005. McCain last week said filibuster "sets a wrong precedent. Someday we will have a Republican president. Someday we may even have a majority in the United States Senate."

In a peculiar tactic, Reid he argued that the Senate should act quickly to nominate Hagel by suggesting Defense Secretary Leon Panetta would no longer be defense secretary after noon on Thursday. Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) made a similar suggestion on Tuesday. Panetta’s office, however, told the E-Ring on Tuesday that he will remain defense secretary until Hagel, or any other successor, is confirmed.

"The Secretary plans to stay in office until Sen. Hagel is confirmed and sworn in,"  Pentagon press secretary George Little told the E-Ring, in an fresh email Thursday, following Reid's assertion.

“In less than two hours, our country will be without a secretary of defense," Reid claimed.  

FP National Security’s Situation Report reported on Thursday that Panetta will fly home to California on Thursday where he intends to stay. That’s clearly a pressure move by the administration (and Panetta always goes home on weekends -- especially holidays.) But Panetta is fully connected to the Pentagon at his home, where he has spent dozens of weekends while in office, and will remain defense secretary.

Reid still repeated the assertion three more times, saying, “It's shocking my Republican colleagues would leave the nation without a fully empowered secretary of defense.”

An administration official quickly emailed the E-Ring, making their case for urgency: “While Secretary Panetta will stay on until Senator Hagel is sworn in, it’s critical that we get our new national security team confirmed as soon as possible. Important decisions are being made on our most pressing national security issues, and those require a new secretary of defense to be in place. When we have 66,000 American troops serving in Afghanistan, face the looming threat of sequestration, and are dealing with continued North Korean intransigence, it’s irresponsible not to move forward to confirm Chuck Hagel. There are real consequences to this kind of unprecedented political posturing against a defense secretary nominee – consequences that are dangerous and threaten our national security.”

Reid also argued Hagel had answered everything the Senate asked of him, and dismissed Republican insistence to learn more about Hagel’s record, saying the GOP’s protests were “political theater.”

“That’s what it is, people worried about primary elections,” Reid said, which is a veiled reference to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who has been particularly hostile towards Hagel. Reid said members are worried about not looking conservative enough in the eyes of the Tea Party.

Once more before yielding the floor, Reid repeated his assertion: “We do not have at 12:00 today a secretary of defense.”

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