Republican Split on Chuck Hagel Could Impair His Ability to Lead

Hagel will face uphill climb once he starts his job at Defense, expert says.

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Republicans are sending mixed messages when it comes to whether they will support former Nebraska Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel for secretary of defense Tuesday.

But the numbers don't lie. There are enough Republicans willing to cross party lines that Democrats have the votes they need to secure Hagel and the White House has said multiple times it is not pulling President Obama's pick.

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But some experts say Hagel's ability to do the job may be clouded by the partisan divide over his nomination.

"Chuck Hagel will be severely constrained with how he can deal with the Pentagon because of his narrow political base in Congress," says Loren Thompson, executive director of the Lexington Institute. "What Obama wanted was someone who could deal with both parties."

This week a slew of Republicans including Republicans Arizona Sen. John McCain and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who had vehemently opposed Hagel's nomination, stepped back and announced they were done holding up the process.

And a handful of Republicans including Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch reiterated their belief that the president should get a straight up or down vote on his cabinet nominees.

[READ: Committee Approves Hagel as Secretary of Defense]

Alabama Republican Sen. Richard Shelby even told a local paper he will vote for Hagel's nomination, as well as GOP colleagues Thad Cochran of Mississippi and Mike Johanns of Nebraska.

But 15 Republicans, including the ranking member on the Armed Services Committee Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe, have called on the White House to recall Hagel's nomination because they don't see him being effective at the job.

"It would be unprecedented for a secretary of defense to take office without the broad base of bipartisan support and confidence needed to serve effectively in this critical position," the letter to the president read.

According to the letter, "over the last half-century, no Secretary of Defense has been confirmed and taken office with more than three Senators voting against him."

[ALSO: Hagel Could Still Be Confirmed to Pentagon Post]

Inhofe mounted a two-pronged attack against Hagel, also sending a tough message to his GOP colleagues urging them not to give Democrats the 60-vote threshold they need to move Hagel's nomination along.

"Make no mistake; a vote for cloture is a vote to confirm Sen. Hagel as secretary of defense," Inhofe wrote in a letter to his colleagues. "We should not let claims about presidential prerogatives and precedents dissuade us from carefully assessing the judgment and positions of this nominee. The president can do better."

But some say Republicans won't hold this nomination against Hagel for long. And dealings with Congress are only one piece of the equation. Given Hagel's military background as a decorated Vietnam vet, these experts say he will be a welcomed asset at DOD.

"I expect that Secretary Hagel will be enormously effective because of his rapport with the troops, knowledge of the hill, and strong personal relationship with President Obama," says John Nagl, a fellow Nebraskan and senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. "This fit of senatorial piqué will soon be forgotten."

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Nagl's point is that the congressional dust up will soon be a blip on the radar for GOP defense hawks who will be anxious to work with Hagel to preserve the Pentagon's strength.

"I think Republican Senators care about national security and will be respectful of Hagel's role as the steward of the Pentagon's forces," Nagl says.

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