The Senate Armed Services Committee voted Tuesday afternoon to endorse former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel as the next secretary of defense and send his nomination to the Senate floor.
The vote was 14-11, along party lines. No Republicans on the committee supported Hagel, a member of their own party
If confirmed, Hagel will replace current Secretary Leon Panetta, who is vacating the post. He would be the first Vietnam veteran to run the department.
The committee met Tuesday afternoon to mull over the vote amid Republican backlash against controversial statements Hagel made during his time in the Senate. Republicans delayed the vote last week, requesting more information about Hagel's past speeches and financial ties.
Since given the nod by President Barack Obama, Hagel’s nomination has also showcased a rift between the usually bipartisan committee. While some Democrats are uneasy about Hagel's past stance, they see the former Nebraska senator as a qualified leader fit to handle defense matters. The 66-year-old has served in the Vietnam War and has much public policy experience. However, he criticized the Bush administration for the 2007 surge in Iraq, which led to a falling out between himself and Arizona Sen. John McCain, a fellow Vietnam veteran who supported it.
However, Hagel came under fire from fellow Republicans who have taken issue with his past statements and voting habit on matters concerning Israel, Iraq, Pentagon spending and nuclear weapons. He had a testy confirmation hearing two weeks ago where Republicans challenged those past comments and later threatened to block the nomination.
McCain, a harsh critic of Hagel and one of the senators who butt heads with him during the confirmation hearing, has said he would not support a filibuster. Hagel would need 60 votes to overcome a filibuster.
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham has publicly stated that he will be voting against Hagel because his record on Iran and Israel. On Sunday, Graham promised he will urge his Senate colleagues to hold on confirming Hagel for the post.
“He is in a league of his own guys,” Graham said Tuesday when describing Hagel’s past actions. “It’s a series of things, a series of votes, an edge about him. … The next secretary of defense will have to deal with a world on fire. … I think we’re sending the worst possible signal to our friends and enemies alike.”
Graham said Hagel’s testimony wasn’t convincing, but that his stance on several controversial issues is “unnerving."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., refused to cooperate with Graham in holding up Hagel's nomination. He has promised a vote on the floor this week.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-Va., told his Senate colleagues on Tuesday that he found it unfair that Hagel spoke his mind and is being held hostage for hsi contrary view.
“I hope it doesn’t become a political vote,” Manchin said, noting he hopes to see a bipartisan support for Hagel. “I intend to support him”
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