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Senate Committee backs Hagel in vote along party lines - Kearney Hub: National

Senate Committee backs Hagel in vote along party lines

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Posted: Tuesday, February 12, 2013 4:14 pm

WASHINGTON -- Chuck Hagel is headed to the Senate floor, courtesy of a party-line vote by the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The former GOP senator from Nebraska has been the subject of much criticism since President Barack Obama tapped him last month to head the Pentagon, but he seems to have weathered the storm.

Hagel is expected to be confirmed by the full Senate before the week is out.

Tuesday's 14-11 committee vote followed a two-hour, often-contentious session during which Democrats touted Hagel's resume, including his distinguished Vietnam combat service, and Republicans ran through a litany of criticisms focused on his past positions related to Iran, Israel and nuclear disarmament.

Senators mixed it up at times over the state of Hagel's personal financial disclosures, with Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and others suggesting Hagel should be more forthcoming on whether compensation he has received from certain companies came indirectly from foreign countries such as North Korea.

Democrats defended Hagel's disclosures, saying he had complied with all disclosure requirements and warned Republicans against impugning Hagel's character and patriotism.

Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., voted against Hagel's nomination, saying he holds views that are "far afield" and to the left of President Obama, that he is someone who would not chart the correct course for the country.

"I do not believe he is the right choice for this job," Fischer said.

Democrats frequently mentioned Hagel's military record, including his decision to sign up for the army and then volunteer to go to Vietnam when he didn't have to do so. Hagel was twice wounded during the war.

"He asked to go to the fight," said Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

Republicans reiterated concerns about Hagel's past statements they said suggest he would be too soft on Iran and was open to significant, possibly unilateral reductions in the country's nuclear arsenal.

They said Hagel's performance at his confirmation hearing did little or nothing to reassure them, particularly at a time when the country is confronted with serious national security threats.

"The next Secretary of Defense will have to deal with a world on fire," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

Many of the Democrats conceded that Hagel's hearing performance was less than stellar but defended the substance of his responses and noted that he has the bipartisan support of a long list of prominent diplomatic and national security officials.

Committee Chairman Carl Levin, R-Mich., highlighted Hagel's statements during the confirmation process that Iran poses a significant threat to the United States, that he would put all options on the table to stop a nuclear Iran and that he is a strong supporter of Israel. Levin also said Hagel has made clear that he recognizes the risks to national security posed by looming automatic budget cuts.

"The president needs to have a secretary of defense in whom he has trust, who will give him unvarnished advice, a person of integrity and one who has a personal understanding of the consequences of decisions relative to the use of military force," Levin said. "Senator Hagel certainly has those critically important qualifications and he is well-qualified to lead the Department of Defense."

Sen. David Vitter, R-La., could still vote and is likely to vote no.

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