WASHINGTON -- Robert M. Gates seemed assured yesterday of winning majority support from the Senate Intelligence Committee in his bid to become the next CIA director when it votes today on whether to recommend his confirmation to the full Senate.
In what may have been a decisive move, although unsurprising, committee Chairman David L. Boren, D-Okla., announced yesterday that he would vote in favor of Mr. Gates, whom he has come to know over the last four years.
"I believe ultimately he will be the next director of central intelligence and that he will be confirmed," Mr. Boren declared.
Mr. Boren's support appears to guarantee at least eight "ayes" on the 15-member panel if, as widely expected, all seven Republicans maintain the bloc support they have shown for President Bush's nominee throughout the arduous, often acrimonious, hearing process.
The battle, however, may not end with the committee vote.
Political analysts say that a tough floor fight could ensue if key Democrats such as Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., take a stand against Mr. Gates. The senator was said to be still undecided yesterday.
"Nunn commands a lot of respect in the Senate. I would say he could swing 10 votes either way," said Republican lobbyist Tom Korologos, who has been helping the White House press Mr. Gates' cause on Capitol Hill.
At least three committee members have said they will vote NTC against Mr. Gates: Sens. Howard M. Metzenbaum, D-Ohio; Bill ** Bradley, D-N.J.; and Ernest F. Hollings, D-S.C. Sens. John Glenn, D-Ohio, and Dennis DeConcini, D-Ariz., were said to be undecided. Sen. Alan Cranston, D-Calif., who earlier said he was leaning in favor of the nominee, said yesterday that he "could go either way."
Declaring his opposition yesterday, Mr. Bradley said Mr. Gates was too entwined in the abuses of the 1980s to reshape the CIA for the 21st century.
"We need someone who will look anew at the world, without the blinders of the past," he said.
The White House, meanwhile, has made numerous calls to senators this week, portraying Mr. Gates as an experienced and "uniquely qualified" individual. Mr. Gates, who joined the CIA as an analyst in 1966, rose to deputy leadership in the agency. President Bush appointed him deputy national security adviser on taking office in 1989.
National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft personally telephoned senators on his deputy's behalf, emphasizing that the last three years at the White House had enabled Mr. Gates, as a senior administration official put it, "to see how the intelligence product fits into the needs of the ultimate consumer -- the president." Meanwhile, Senate aides disclosed this week that the Select Committee on Intelligence was continuing to investigate allegations that Mr. Gates slanted, or politicized, intelligence estimates to suit Reagan policy-makers while he was deputy director and, briefly, acting director of the CIA in the 1980s.
Other charges against Mr. Gates, some of them brought by former CIA colleagues, are that he lied to Congress in saying he knew nothing of the administration's Iran-contra dealings; that he is steeped in outdated anti-Soviet dogma; and that he has suppressed dissenting views within the CIA branch of analysis. He has denied all the allegations.
Support for Mr. Gates has come from respected intelligence experts such as retired CIA deputies Bobby Ray Inman and John McMahon.