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First Thoughts: Hagel appears to have the votes for confirmation

Hagel appears to have the votes to win confirmation… So what did this extra week of deliberation buy opponents? Apparently, it was the revelation that “Friends of Hamas” never existed… Why the sequester will probably take place (at least in the short term)… Ted Cruz and Elizabeth Warren – not your average freshmen… The nation’s governors are in DC… And “Meet” interviews two of them: Bobby Jindal and Deval Patrick.

*** Hagel appears to have the votes for confirmation: A week has passed since a Republican filibuster stalled Chuck Hagel’s nomination to be defense secretary, and yesterday we received even more evidence that Hagel will win confirmation on Tuesday. Let us count the ways: First, yet another GOP senator -- Richard Shelby, who backed the filibuster -- is now expected to vote for Hagel’s confirmation, becoming the third Republican “yes” vote (Thad Cochran and Mike Johanns are the others). Assuming every Senate Democrat votes for Hagel, that’s at least 58 votes for simple passage. But more importantly, the Shelby news means that there are now at least 60 votes to beat any additional filibusters, because the Obama White House was just one vote away from reaching that threshold. (Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid switched his vote to “no” in order to be able to bring up Hagel’s nomination again.) And that’s 60 votes without counting Sens. Lindsey Graham and John McCain, who both promised to bring Hagel’s nomination to the floor after an extra week of deliberation. Second, we learned yesterday that 15 GOP senators penned a letter asking President Obama to withdraw Hagel’s nomination. Translation: We don’t have the votes to stop Hagel. Finally, in the third “tell” of the day on Hagel, GOP Sen. James Inhofe wrote a letter to his GOP colleagues urging them to keep the filibuster going. Translation: The GOP doesn’t have 41 votes to keep the nomination stalled.

Former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) testifies during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on his nomination to be Defense Secretary, on Capitol Hill in Washington, in this January 31, 2013, file photo.Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

*** So what did this extra week of deliberation buy opponents? Given that Hagel now appears to have the votes to win confirmation, here’s the question to chew on: Has the U.S. Senate, on its recess break, learned anything new about Hagel’s nomination during this extra week of deliberation? To our eyes, the biggest thing that was new was the revelation that a supposed group called “Friend of Hamas,” which allegedly gave money to Hagel, never existed in the first place (see here and here). Now the pressure is on Hagel to perform in the job. This fight -- elevated in a very polarized way -- means he will have little margin for error early on.  

*** Why the sequester will probably happen (at least in the short term): This week, we’ve examined the different angles in the budget battle over the looming automatic spending cuts set to take place on March 1 -- how President Obama is using the bully pulpit, how congressional Republicans are playing with a weak P.R. hand (even if they have a strong legislative one), and how the sky might not fall if the so-called “sequester” goes into effect. But here’s something everyone should brace for: The automatic cuts will probably take place, at least in the short term. The reasoning we’ve heard, from both Democrats and Republicans, is that Republicans NEED the sequester to go through to show in order to prove to the base that it’s fighting Obama. As former GOP Rep. Tom Davis said on MSNBC’s “Daily Rundown” yesterday, the sequester was always the best place for Republicans to fight (rather than over the debt ceiling or even over a government shutdown). "They have to show their base they're willing to fight -- and then possibly make a deal later,” Davis said. Remember, many in the GOP base were NOT happy with how the fiscal-cliff talks went down, and we’ve seen polling evidence showing that some of the negative numbers on congressional Republicans are because conservatives are not happy with the job Republicans are doing in Congress.

*** Not your average freshmen: We know that supporters of freshmen Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D) and Ted Cruz (R) don’t enjoy the comparisons between the two senators, especially since they couldn’t be more different ideologically. That said, the comparisons are also hard to resist. They’re both ambitious. They’ve both set up leadership PACs (Warren’s PAC for a Level Playing Field and Cruz’s Jobs, Growth, and Freedom Fund) to make sure everyone KNOWS they are ambitious! Unlike the cautious courses that Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and even Marco Rubio set after being elected, both have been more than willing to shake things up. And, as a result, both aren’t necessarily viewed as team players -- a quality that their supporters appreciate. Yesterday, Cruz delivered a speech at a Lincoln Day dinner in Ohio. Here’s the Cleveland Plain Dealer: “[T]he Texas conservative stressed in his keynote address at the Cuyahoga County GOP's annual Lincoln Day dinner that the party must better articulate its ideals. ‘You want to know what happened last election cycle? We didn't win the argument for the American people,’ Cruz said while pacing easily on stage in a hotel ballroom. ‘The Democrats' story is the Republicans are the party of the rich, the Democrats are the party of everybody else. And if that's the narrative people believe, we'll never win another national election.’”

*** The governors are coming! The Governors are coming! The nation’s governors from across the country have arrived in DC for this weekend’s National Governors Association meeting. (In fact, Obama and Vice President Biden meet with Democratic governors this morning at 11:00 am ET; the event is closed to the press). When you look at all the GOP governors across the country, the Republican Party doesn’t appear to be in as bad of shape as their GOP colleagues in Washington. Why? These governors are all recalibrating after the 2012 election – whether it’s Bobby Jindal’s and Bob McDonnell’s post-election messaging, or Rick Scott and John Kasich accepting Medicaid expansion under the health-care law. In other words, it looks like governors don’t just read the national polls but respond to them.

*** On “Meet the Press” this weekend: On Sunday, NBC’s David Gregory interviews two the nation’s governors – Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal and Massachusetts’ Deval Patrick.

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