Two of the most outspoken Republican critics of Chuck Hagel's nomination as secretary of defense indicated Sunday that they would no longer hold up his Senate confirmation.
Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said on Fox News Sunday that he would stand aside because Mr. Hagel had disavowed comments that he was said to have made during a talk at Rutgers University in 2007 that the State Department was an adjunct of the Israeli Foreign Minister's office.
"I got a letter back from Senator Hagel in response to my question, 'Did you say that, and do you believe that?' And the letter said he did not recall saying that," Mr. Graham said. "He disavows that statement."
Mr. Graham, one of the most vociferous and persistent critics of Mr. Hagel's nomination, added, "I'll just take him at his word unless something new comes along."
Although Mr. Graham said he would no longer try to block the nomination, he was far from giving it an emphatic endorsement, calling Mr. Hagel "one of the most unqualified, radical choices for secretary of defense in a very long time."
Those comments were echoed, on NBC's "Meet the Press," by Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, a close friend of Mr. Graham and a public opponent of Mr. Hagel's nomination.
"I don't believe he is qualified," Mr. McCain said. "But I don't believe that we should hold up his nomination any further because I think it's a reasonable amount of time to have questions answered."
Mr. Graham and Mr. McCain were among a majority of Republicans in the Senate who backed a filibuster on Thursday when Mr. Hagel's nomination came to a vote. Despite four Republicans' crossing over to vote with the majority Democrats, the nomination fell one vote short of passing an up-or-down floor vote.
That unprecedented move forced the majority leader, Senator Harry Reid, to set up another vote on Feb. 26. With Democratic control of the Senate, Mr. Hagel is expected to win confirmation whenever his nomination comes up for a vote.
Mr. Hagel, a Republican former senator from Nebraska, has been broadly criticized by his former colleagues over his positions on Iran, Iraq and Israel, and faced a nomination process rocky even by recent fractious standards.
President Obama's chief of staff, Denis McDonough, appearing Sunday on the ABC News program "This Week," said that the White House had "grave concern" that national security was at stake, given the Senate Republicans' delaying tactics in confirming both a new Pentagon chief and a director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
"If you look at Chuck Hagel -- decorated war veteran himself, war hero, Republican senator, somebody who over the course of the last many years, either as a Republican senator or as a chairman of the president's Intelligence Advisory Board, I've worked with very closely," he said. "This guy has one thing in mind -- how to protect the country."
Mr. McDonough, who was formerly Mr. Obama's deputy national security adviser, working under John O. Brennan, the president's choice for C.I.A. director, added that "between John Brennan as the C.I.A. director and Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense, we want to make sure that we have those guys sitting in the chairs working. Because I don't want there to have been something missed because of this hangup here in Washington."
The White House and Senate Democrats have continued to express confidence that both men will be confirmed. Democrats have enough votes to approve both nominees, but they do not have the 60 votes necessary to overcome any filibuster.
After Thursday's vote, outside groups campaigning against Mr. Hagel's nomination said they would step up efforts to find damaging information and to pressure senators to vote against him.nation
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.