WASHINGTON (CBS News) -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has scheduled a vote for Friday to attempt to break the Republican filibuster against the confirmation of former Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Nebraska, President Obama's defense secretary nominee.
This is the first time in history that a defense secretary nominee has been filibustered, Reid noted on the Senate floor today. "What a shame," he said.
The Senate needs at least 60 votes to break a filibuster and officially end debate on an issue. If there are 60 votes to end debate on Hagel's nomination, the Senate will proceed with a final vote on his confirmation. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said he is optimistic they have the 60 votes.
If all 55 Senate Democrats vote in favor of ending debate, they will need just five Republicans to join them. These five Republicans would not necessarily have to support Hagel's nomination -- they would simply have to oppose the filibustering of a presidential nominee. Senate tradition dictates that the president has the prerogative to nominate whomever he chooses for Cabinet positions and that nominees should not be filibustered.
Any Republicans who vote to break a filibuster might well go on to vote against Hagel's nomination, but at that point, he would only need 51 votes to be confirmed - and he can get that with Democratic votes alone. It's very likely Hagel will have the five GOP votes needed to overcome a filibuster, but it's still unclear at this point.
So far, two Republicans have said they would vote for Hagel to be confirmed - Senators Thad Cochran, R-Miss., and Mike Johanns, R-Nebraska. One would assume they would also vote in favor of breaking a filibuster.
A third Republican, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, announced today that she will vote against Hagel's confirmation, but in favor of breaking a filibuster.
Sens. Richard Burr, R-North Carolina, and Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, said last week they would not support a filibuster. CBS News is working to confirm whether or not they still hold that view -- if so, Hagel can break the filibuster. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, who previously said he wouldn't support a filibuster, reportedly is considering changing his mind.
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