WH: Hagel less than perfect but confirmation on track

Former Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing to become the next secretary of defense on Capitol Hill January 31, 2013 in Washington, D.C.
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Updated: Feb. 1, 12:57 p.m. ET

While the White House concedes that Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel's performance at his confirmation hearing today was less than perfect, they're confident about his chances of clearing the Senate.

The official line is the White House hopes and expects the confirmation process to proceed smoothly and expeditiously and that Hagel's performance before the Senate Armed Services Committee today did not materially undermine his prospects.

"I think Senator Hagel answered the questions appropriately and did a fine job," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Friday in a press briefing. "I would be stunned if, in the end, Republican senators chose to try to block the nomination of a decorated war veteran who was once among their colleagues in the Senate as a Republican."

Privately, White House advisers concede Hagel's appearance was far from perfect and good have and should have been stronger. This doesn't mean or even suggest White House advisers are despairing or believe anything Hagel did was ruinous. To the contrary. They believe Hagel got by - but with less margin for error than they would have preferred.

In short, the White House sees no erosion among Senate Democrats. The tough line of questioning from Republicans was expected and the White House, at this point, doesn't anticipate or fear a GOP filibuster.

Additionally, the White House and Democrats will make the post-hearing case that Republicans were far more interested in pressing Hagel on past votes and past remarks than current and future U.S. national security hotspots such as Afghanistan and Iraq (now, as compared to the "surge" debate), Mali, Libya, the South China Sea, North Korea or Yemen. The White House and Democrats will soon say Republicans were trivializing the process by reaching back into Hagel's record, something Republicans consider laughable and politically contrived.

Bottom line: Hagel was a Weeble. He wobbled but he didn't fall down.