The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence voted Tuesday to confirm John O. Brennan, the Obama administration’s top counterterrorism adviser, as the next CIA director, after the White House released a cache of secret legal opinions authorizing the use of drones to kill terrorism suspects, including Americans.
The 12-3 vote paves the way for Mr. Brennan’s nomination to go to the Senate floor for a final confirmation vote. While the vote had not yet been scheduled as of Tuesday night, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle suggested it will occur by the end of the week and that Mr. Brennan will likely be confirmed.
“I don’t intend to encourage a filibuster of Mr. Brennan. I think it will run its normal course and he’ll probably be confirmed,” said Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the intelligence committee’s ranking member and one of three Republicans on the panel who voted against Mr. Brennan on Tuesday.
Several lawmakers had stalled the vote from going forward in recent weeks amid heated debate in Washington over the drone program and ongoing Republican skepticism toward the administration for its response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.
Emerging from Tuesday’s vote, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat and the intelligence panel’s chairwoman, said “both of those issues have been addressed” and that she was “confident” they “have been resolved.”
Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, declined to comment but gave a thumbs down sign as he walked away from reporters asking how he voted.
Earlier on Tuesday, two Democrats and one Republican on the intelligence committee said they were satisfied by the Obama administration’s move to release several legal documents related to the drone program.
“We appreciate that the executive branch has provided us with the documents needed to consider this nomination,” Sens. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, Mark Udall, Colorado Democrat, and Susan M. Collins, Maine Republican, said in a joint statement. “We anticipate supporting the nomination of John Brennan to be Director of the CIA.”
The confirmation process has been slowed by questions from both sides of the aisle about the use of remotely piloted drone aircraft to kill suspected al Qaeda leaders, including Americans.
While Mr. Wyden, Mr. Udall and Ms. Collins praised President Obama’s willingness to share related documents with a small number of lawmakers, they said that “the appropriate next step should be to bring the American people into this debate and for Congress to consider ways to ensure that the President’s sweeping authorities are subject to appropriate limitations, oversight, and safeguards.”
The lawmakers also said they were “pleased” because the White House had also agreed to “provide public, unclassified information about its position on when people suspected of terrorism can be killed legally on American soil.”
“They added that they were “grateful” to Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who has raised the questions publicly during recent weeks to pressure the White House on the issue.
Some in the civil liberties community, however, remained highly skeptical. “Instead of a slow drip of information when its back is against the wall, the Obama administration needs to publicly release all … memos on ‘targeted killings,’” said Zeke Johnson, director of Amnesty International USA’s Security With Human Rights Campaign.
While he called the administration’s release of documents to the intelligence committee a step “in the right direction,” Mr. Johnson said it was “far from sufficient to ease concerns about extrajudicial executions.”
Prior to Tuesday’s vote, meanwhile, several Republican senators who are not members of the intelligence committee have said they would try to block Mr. Brennan’s nomination in order to force the administration to answer more questions about last year’s Sept. 11 terror attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi.
Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire on Monday published a list of 10 “things we don’t know” about the attack, which killed four Americans.
Mrs. Feinstein said Tuesday that the intelligence committee had made “a number of requests” to the administration related to Benghazi. “I can’t go into it all but it was additional information,” she said, adding that “the administration has provided the great bulk of it.”