WASHINGTON -- A key Senate panel voted along party lines Tuesday to recommend the confirmation of former Sen. Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense, sending his nomination to the full Senate despite opposition from Republican senators over his stances on Iran, Iraq and Israel.
The Senate Armed Services Committee vote puts Mr. Hagel's ultimate confirmation in potential peril when it reaches the Senate floor as early as today. While he likely would gain the simple majority of 51 Senate votes needed, he'll need to pick up at least five Republican votes to reach 60 if his opponents put up procedural barriers.
The committee voted, 14-11, to approve President Barack Obama's nomination of Mr. Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska, with all Democrats on the panel backing him and all but one Republican opposing him. Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana spoke at the hearing but didn't vote.
"Despite efforts to portray him as outside the mainstream of American foreign policy, Sen. Hagel has received broad support from a wide array of senior statesmen and defense and foreign policy organizations," said Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the Armed Services Committee chairman.
Mr. Levin and other Democrats cited the introduction of Mr. Hagel at his Jan. 31 confirmation hearing by former Sens. John Warner and Sam Nunn, both of whom once led the armed services panel, with Mr. Warner going on to become defense secretary.
Mr. Hagel, a decorated Vietnam War hero, would be the first man of enlisted rank to head the Pentagon, succeeding Leon Panetta, a former California congressman who is popular among lawmakers from both parties.
The staunch opposition to him from Senate Republicans sets up an unusual scenario in which a former senator is assailed by senators from his own party, many of whom served with him before his January 2009 retirement.
"If Chuck Hagel is confirmed, it will make military conflict in the next four years substantially more likely," said Sen. Ted Cruz, the newly elected Republican from Texas.
Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina noted that he voted for Democratic Sen. John Kerry to become secretary of state despite policy differences, but he could not support Mr. Hagel.
First Published February 13, 2013 5:00 AM