Defense Secretary nominee Hagel clears important Senate hurdle

Wednesday, February 13, 2013 - 12:00am

 Members of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday narrowly approved the choice of Chuck Hagel to serve as President Barack Obama's next defense secretary, sending the controversial nomination to the full Senate.

Hagel's nomination cleared the committee in a straight party line 14 to 11 vote. No Republicans backed the former Nebraska GOP senator, a decorated Vietnam veteran who has come under fire on a range of issues relating to American foreign policy in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, declared that he could not "in good conscience support this nomination because ... it is sending the worst possible signal to our friends and our enemies alike."

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Virginia, argued that Hagel has shown "again and again that he is willing to sacrifice and that he has courage. ... I give him credit for that."

The full Democratic-controlled Senate is expected to vote on the Hagel nomination this week. While some Republicans have suggested they might filibuster, CNN's Capitol Hill team has determined that Hagel has enough support to clear a 60-vote threshold if needed.

Sixty votes are needed to break a filibuster in the 100-member chamber.

Hagel has been fiercely criticized by his former GOP colleagues for allegedly shifting positions on confronting Iran, supporting Israel, and maintaining a strong military amid pressure to cut costs, among other things. The former senator was widely seen as stumbling badly in his lengthy January 31 confirmation hearing.

Hagel's "performance before this committee was the worst that I have seen of any nominee for office," Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, said shortly before Tuesday's vote.

In the days following his testimony, Republicans pushed Hagel to provide additional financial and other disclosures -- data Hagel insisted he did not have access to. Top Democrats called the requests, related to speeches Hagel made to numerous organizations, unprecedented and inappropriate.

Additionally, Graham threatened to place a hold on the nominations of both Hagel and CIA nominee John Brennan until the White House releases new information on last September's terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya.

Holds -- like filibusters -- can be broken with 60 votes.

If confirmed, Hagel will succeed Leon Panetta as Pentagon chief. 

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