Committee Approves Hagel as Secretary of Defense

Committee tensions high as GOP and Dems battle over Hagel.

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In a party-line vote, the Senate Armed Service Committee voted 14 to 11 to approve former Nebraska Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense Tuesday.

His nomination will now be put to a vote before the full Senate for confirmation.

The vote came at a time when Republicans on the committee had asked the confirmation to be postponed until they could get more information on Hagel's finances and more answers on security shortcomings that led to the death of former Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens in Benghazi.

The vote showcased tension and sharp partisan divides in a committee that has traditionally bridged party differences.

Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz alluded that Hagel's unwillingness to hand over a broader record of speeches and payments meant that lawmakers could not be sure that he had never received contributions from anti-Israel advocates, defense contractors or other "radical" groups.

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Committee Chairman Carl Levin of Michigan said that Cruz's requests went "way beyond" what has been asked of other nominees and Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson scolded Cruz for "taking it too far."

"Sen. Cruz has gone over the line. He basically has impugned the patriotism of the nominee," Nelson said.

The narrow vote fell along party lines, with Republicans opposing Hagel because of his past record on Iran, North Korea, and the surge in Iraq.

"I don't vote against nominees very often," said South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham. "There is the left lane in politics, the right lane, the middle lane, and when it comes to some of the Iranian-Israeli issues, there is the Hagel lane. He is in a league of his own guys."

Hagel's lackluster showing during his confirmation hearing did not quell many of the GOP senators' concerns about his past positions.

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"It was the most unimpressive performance that I have seen in watching many nominees," said Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain.

Even New Hampshire Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen said she wishes Hagel had been "feistier" in addressing the committee's reservations.

Some Republicans have vowed to force a 60-vote threshold for Hagel's confirmation. If every Democrat and the Senate's two independent lawmakers vote in favor of his appointment, three Republicans will have to cross party lines for Hagel to be confirmed.

Republican Sens. Mike Johanns of Nebraska and Thad Cochran of Mississippi have said they would support Hagel as the nominee. Therefore, Democrats only need one more Republican to vote "yes."

A final vote on Hagel's nomination is scheduled for Thursday.

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