WASHINGTON -- After a combative two-hour debate, the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday approved the nomination of former Senator Chuck Hagel as defense secretary, sending it to the full Senate.
But the 14-to-11 vote, which broke down entirely along partisan lines, was just the beginning of a process this week that seemed certain to further expose a deep rift between Republicans and Democrats over President Obama's foreign policy prerogatives.
At times, the hearing slipped into an accusatory and bitter back-and-forth, with Republicans like Ted Cruz of Texas going as far as to suggest that Mr. Hagel had accepted money from enemy nations like North Korea, while Democrats like Bill Nelson of Florida said Republicans had undermined the integrity of both Mr. Hagel and the committee.
Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the senior Republican on the committee, said that those who suggested that Mr. Hagel was "cozy" with terrorist states had a basis for their claims because Iran has expressed support for his nomination.
"He's endorsed by them," Mr. Inhofe said. "You can't get any cozier than that."
Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri, gasped in disgust. "I've got to say, be careful Senator Inhofe," she told him. "What if some horrible organization said tomorrow that you were the best guy that they knew?"
Mr. Inhofe has vowed to use a procedural tactic to slow the Senate's consideration of Mr. Hagel, a step that would require 60 votes for confirmation instead of the usual simple majority of 51. The tactic may prove mainly symbolic, however, because at least 60 senators have already indicated that they will allow his nomination to come to a vote, even though they may not all back their former colleague, who is a Republican.
Even as Mr. Inhofe threatened to draw the process out, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, was preparing to hold a vote as early as Wednesday night. Still, Senate Democrats said that given the late timing of the Tuesday committee vote, they did not expect to bring Mr. Hagel's nomination to the Senate floor until Thursday morning.
Blocking such a high-level presidential nominee is a rare move. Since 1917, when the Senate's modern filibuster rules were created, a cabinet-level nominee has faced a supermajority barrier to confirmation only twice -- Ronald Reagan's nominee for commerce secretary in 1987 and George W. Bush's nominee for interior secretary in 2006.
Mr. Hagel has faced opposition from Republicans and Democrats alike, drawing criticism over past remarks that were seen as anti-Jewish, anti-gay and insufficiently supportive of American foreign policy.
Bit by bit, criticism of him has died down. Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, announced last month that he was reassured that Mr. Hagel was a friend of Israel despite derisive comments that the nominee once made about the "Jewish lobby."
And Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, came out against a filibuster, despite subjecting Mr. Hagel to a grilling over his opposition to the escalation of the war in Iraq during the Bush administration.
Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan and chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said during the hearing that he was satisfied that Mr. Hagel had explained his controversial remarks. "He apologized for one remark and told the committee that he would say other things differently if he had the chance," Mr. Levin said.
Yet holdouts remain. Mr. Graham has threatened to hold up Mr. Hagel's nomination over questions about what the White House knew before the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, was attacked last year.
Mr. Cruz has said that he will take no options off the table in opposing Mr. Hagel.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.