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. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., did not vote.
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.
Sharp disputes within the committee marked the discussion Tuesday afternoon before the vote. Republicans harped on controversial statements Hagel had made during his time in the Senate and questioned his speaking fees from groups they considered objectionable. Republicans delayed the vote last week, requesting more information about Hagel's past speeches and financial ties.
Hagel’s nomination has also showcased a rift between the usually bipartisan committee. While some Democrats are uneasy about Hagel's past stances, they see the former Nebraska senator as a qualified leader fit to handle defense matters. The 66-year-old is a decorated Vietnam veteran and has much public policy experience. However, he criticized the Bush administration for the 2007 surge in Iraq, which led to a falling out with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a fellow Vietnam veteran who supported it.
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Hagel also came under fire from fellow Republicans who have taken issue with his past statements and voting record on matters concerning Israel, Iraq, Pentagon spending and nuclear weapons. He had a testy confirmation hearing two weeks ago where Republicans grilled him and threatened to block the nomination.
McCain, a harsh critic of Hagel and one of the senators who butted heads with him during the confirmation hearing, has said he would not support a filibuster. Hagel would have needed 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,” 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-W. 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”