The furor over Chuck Hagel’s nomination to be Defense Secretary has overshadowed another key national security nomination, that of John Brennan to be director of the CIA. It’s gone almost unnoticed today that the Senate Intelligence Committee postponed a vote on Brennan’s nomination that had been planned for Thursday. Is Barack Obama’s preferred CIA director in real, Hagel-level trouble?
Probably not. Democratic sources are confident that Brennan will be confirmed. The current delay comes because Republicans on the Intelligence committee have requested more information on—you guessed it—the September 11 attacks on the US consulate in Benghazi. According to a source close to the process, discussions are underway to see whether the intelligence community can provide committee members with more information that might unclog the delay and allow for a vote on Brennan later this month. But the objections don’t come solely from within the committee. Yesterday Republican senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte announced that they will delay Brennan’s nomination—much as they have Hagel’s—if they don’t get an explanation of how and why intelligence community talking points produced in the aftermath of the attack were stripped of references to al Qaeda and “terrorism.” (Those would be the same talking points that UN Ambassador Susan Rice relied on in a round of television appearances that wound up sinking her chances to be Secretary of State.)
But if McCain and friends aren’t willing to support a full-blown filibuster of Hagel, it seems unlikely they’ll mount an all-out fight against Brennan. After all, the opposition to Hagel, though partly driven by the right’s Benghazi obsession, also involves substantive issues like Hagel’s views on Israel and Iran, not to mention the clumsy performance he gave at his January 31 confirmation hearing. Virtually none of the opposition to Brennan is about Brennan. Even Rand Paul’s insistence on knowing whether the president has the power to drone an American on U.S. soil is about the views of administration lawyers, not Brennan himself.
(It’s worth noting that neither Obama nor Brennan have ruled out the drone-at-home scenario. “The rules outside of the United States are going to be different than the rules inside the United States,” Obama said yesterday, without offering details. In a new set of written answers for the Intelligence Committee, Brennan said only: “This Administration has not carried out drone strikes inside the United States and has no intention of doing so.”)
Where would shooting down Brennan get Republicans anyway? Four years ago, Obama decided not to nominate Brennan to run the CIA after progressives raised alarms about his alleged complicity with Bush-era torture and detention practices. Brennan wound up becoming White House counterterror advisor–a White House staff position that likely has more policy influence than that of CIA director, and one not subject to congressional oversight. If Brennan is not confirmed, he’s expected to stay in his current job, right by the president’s side.