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Hagel's Senate confirmation is highly likely

5 GOP Senators oppose filibuster, along with 53 Democrats and 2 Independents; 60 needed to stop filibuster

Tuesday, February 5, 2013 - 9:00pm

CNN has learned there are now at least five Republican senators who would oppose a filibuster of former Sen. Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense, all but ensuring the embattled nominee will be confirmed in the coming days.

According to a CNN survey of senators, the five are Thad Cochran of Mississippi and Mike Johanns of Nebraska -who both support Hagel taking over the top post at the Pentagon -- and John McCain of Arizona, Richard Burr of North Carolina, and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma -- who all oppose Hagel's nomination but also disagree with blocking it by filibuster.

At least four other Republican senators - Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Dean Heller of Nevada and Roy Blunt of Missouri -- have said they are not inclined to back a filibuster but haven't made a final decision.

While no Republican senator has said definitively he or she will filibuster Hagel, several have suggested they might, including the two senators from Texas, Ted Cruz and John Cornyn who is the second-ranking Senate Republican.

If a filibuster were launched, it would take 60 votes to cut it off. There are 53 Democrats in the Senate plus two independents who regularly vote with them. So the additional five Republicans would provide the votes needed to break a filibuster.

Democratic aides tell CNN they expect no defections from their side.

While there is considerable Republican opposition to Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska, many senators believe strongly a president has the right to pick his Cabinet members and get an up or down vote on their qualifications. In the country's history, a Cabinet nominee never has faced a formal filibuster, according to the office of the Senate historian.

A confirmation vote could come as early as Thursday in the Senate Armed Services committee, which held a hearing on the nomination last week.

A floor vote has not been scheduled yet, according to a Democratic leadership aide. 

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