The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

February 12, 2013

Senate panel to vote on Defense nominee Hagel

— WASHINGTON (AP) — Chuck Hagel faced his first major hurdle in his bid to become the nation's defense secretary as a bitterly divided Senate Armed Services Committee pushed toward a vote Tuesday on his nomination.

"We need a secretary of defense," Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., told Republicans who continued to press for a delay in the vote.

The session exposed the deep split on the panel as Republicans assailed President Barack Obama's selection and Democrats highlighted Hagel's military service.

Obama tapped Hagel, a 66-year-old former Republican senator from Nebraska and twice-wounded Vietnam War combat veteran, to succeed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who is stepping down after four years as CIA director and Pentagon chief.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is pressing for a full Senate vote later this week, most likely on Thursday.

Hagel faces fierce opposition from Republicans who have challenged his past statements and votes on Israel, Iran, Iraq and nuclear weapons. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who was a close friend of Hagel's but split over the Iraq war and politics, said he would vote against the nomination.

McCain cited Hagel's opposition to an increase in U.S. forces in Iraq that McCain backed in 2007, as well as Hagel's halting performance at his confirmation hearing. McCain said the testimony "was the worst I've seen by any nominee before this committee."

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., insisted that the former GOP senator was out of the mainstream. "He's in a league of his own," Graham said.

Democrats argued that the president should have deference in assembling his Cabinet and specifically his second-term national security team.

Some Democrats sought to offer explanations for Hagel's lackluster testimony during more than eight hours of testimony last month.

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