WASHINGTON: The Senate Intelligence Committee was scheduled to vote Tuesday on President Barack Obama's pick to lead the CIA after weeks of fighting with the White House over access to top-secret information about the use of lethal drone strikes against terror suspects and the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya.
The committee's chairwoman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, said the panel would move ahead with John Brennan's nomination to lead the spy agency even as Republicans said they were frustrated with the Obama administration's reluctant disclosure of all the records.
Brennan's nomination has been held up as Democrats and Republicans on the intelligence panel have pressed the Obama administration to provide them with a series of classified Justice Department legal opinions that justify the use of unmanned spy planes to kill terror suspects overseas, including U.S. citizens.
Key Senate Republicans have said they will oppose Brennan's nomination unless they get classified information, including emails among top U.S. national security officials, detailing the Obama administration's actions immediately following the Sept. 11, 2012, attack in Benghazi that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the Intelligence Committee's vice chairman, said "we're making progress" on the documents but left open the possibility he might ask Feinstein to delay Tuesday's vote.
Brennan so far has escaped the harsh treatment that former Sen. Chuck Hagel, the president's choice to lead the Defense Department, received from Senate Republicans, even though Brennan is one of Obama's most important national security aides and the White House official who oversees the drone program.
Brennan also served as a senior CIA official during President George W. Bush's administration, when waterboarding and other forms of "enhanced interrogation" and detention practices were adopted. Brennan has publicly denounced the use of these tactics, but the cloud hasn't gone completely away.
Sen. John McCain, a Republican, has said Brennan's stance on waterboarding and torture is inconsistent. McCain is also leading the charge for the Benghazi records.
"All we want is the answers," McCain said Monday. "I'm not threatening anything. I just think we deserve the answers."
Brennan, 57, has won praise from several lawmakers as the best qualified candidate to lead the CIA.
Former Congresswoman Jane Harman, who spent eight years on the House Intelligence Committee, said she expects Brennan to be confirmed by a comfortable margin. Senate Republicans took Hagel's nomination personally, she said. Hagel, a fellow Republican, was criticized for straying from party positions.
"I don't think they're going to try the same play twice and really seriously wound Obama's national security team at a time when it's very important that we project strength," said Harman, president of the Wilson Center in Washington.
Brennan declined to say whether he believes waterboarding, which simulates drowning, amounted to torture. But he called the practice "reprehensible" and said it should never be done again. Obama ordered waterboarding banned shortly after taking office.
Drone strikes are employed only as a "last resort," Brennan told the committee. But he also said he had no qualms about going after U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in September 2011. A drone strike in Yemen killed al-Awlaki and Samir Khan, both U.S. citizens. A drone strike two weeks later killed al-Awlaki's 16-year-old son, a U.S. native.
If confirmed by the full Senate, Brennan would replace Michael Morell, the CIA's deputy director who has been acting director since David Petraeus resigned in November after acknowledging an affair with his biographer.