WASHINGTON - Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has left the building – the Pentagon – to await from his California home the expected Senate vote on the nomination of former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel to succeed him.
A deeply divided Senate is expected to vote on Tuesday on whether to move ahead on the nomination, according to a senior Senate Democratic leadership aide who spoke on condition of anonymity because discussions were private.
Obama’s pick to head the Pentagon has been a contentious, with his likely confirmation coming only after a protracted political fight.
Pentagon spokesman George Little says Panetta will be tuning in to the C-SPAN Senate channel in the next few days, hoping that Hagel is confirmed. Panetta has been eager to retire to his walnut farm in Carmel for weeks, and already was feted at two farewell ceremonies. But his plans have been repeatedly blocked by delays as senators battle over Hagel's nomination.
Nearly two weeks ago Republicans stalled the nomination, a move that meant Panetta had to attend a NATO meeting in Brussels last week that he expected Hagel would attend.
On Monday GOP lawmakers signaled they would end their delaying tactics.
If Hagel gets the necessary votes, it would just be a matter of time for a simple up-or-down vote, although Republicans could insist on the maximum 30 hours of debate before a final vote.
If confirmed, Hagel would join Obama's retooled national security team just days before automatic, across-the-board budget cuts hit the Pentagon.
Associated Press writer Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this report.