WASHINGTON -- A majority of the Senate Intelligence Committee was expected today to approve the nomination of Robert M. Gates as the next director of Central Intelligence.
The vote, which comes more than five months after President Bush named his deputy national security adviser to serve as the country's espionage chief, would move the nomination to the full Senate, where an intense debate is expected over Gates' fitness for a job he was denied in 1987.
Confirmation by the Senate hinges on the decision of crucial uncommitted Democrats, although the endorsement of the committee would boost Gates' chances. The Senate has not yet set a date to vote on the nomination, but the White House is pressing for an early decision, in the hope of avoiding a prolonged debate that opponents could use to erode support for the nominee.
Three weeks of hearings on the nomination raised questions about Gates' bleak view of Moscow, his stern management style and whether he misled Congress about his role in the Iran-contra affair and slanted intelligence during his years as a senior CIA manager.
All seven Republicans on the 15-member committee have already said they would support Gates, who served in a number of top positions, including that of CIA deputy director before he went to the National Security Council.
In addition, Sen. David L. Boren, D-Okla., who is chairman of the committee, announced yesterday that he would vote "with enthusiasm" for the nominee when the committee votes today.
Noting that Gates had both experience and the confidence of Bush, Boren said, "We simply do not have the time for someone from the outside to learn all of the complexity of the intelligence community."
He praised Gates for his cooperation with the congressional oversight of intelligence, adding, "I don't think we've had anyone who's ever come before our committee nominated for this important post who has made a stronger commitment to the oversight process than has been made by Robert Gates."