Senate Votes to Move Ahead on Hagel, Clearing Way for Confirmation
(NBC News) -- Former Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., moved a step closer to becoming the nation's next defense secretary after the Senate voted Tuesday to end debate on his nomination, and move toward a final confirmation vote.
Hagel's nomination cleared a key threshold in a midday vote on Tuesday, ending a week-and-a-half-long delay forced by Republicans who object to their former colleague's nomination.
The Senate voted 71 to 27 to move forward with Hagel's nomination, clearing the 60-vote threshold needed to end the GOP filibuster. Several Republicans who'd previously voted to block Hagel reversed their votes, and allowed him to move toward confirmation.
The vote all but ensures Hagel's confirmation, since only a simple majority of senators are needed in that vote, and Democrats — who all backed former Republican senator — all back Hagel. That vote on final confirmation could come as soon as Tuesday evening.
Tuesday's vote brings the bruising fight over Hagel's nomination near to its conclusion.
Republicans had fought strenuously to defeat Hagel, accusing him at points of harboring hostilities toward Israel, and sympathies for the Palestinian militant group Hamas. Tied into Hagel's nomination as well have been Republicans' long-running effort to ding President Barack Obama and his administration over their handling of the Sept. 11, 2012 attacks on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
"What has their filibuster gained my Republican colleagues?" Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., asked on the Senate floor. "Twelve days later, Senator Hagel's exemplary record of service to his country remains untarnished."
Reid added: "Senate Republicans have delayed for the better part of two weeks for one reason and one reason only: partisanship."
Hagel didn't necessarily help his cause during a combative confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Republicans aggressively questioned Hagel on a variety of matters during the Jan. 31 hearing.
Even still, Democrats held firm in their backing for the former Nebraska senator, helping to move his nomination forward. Republicans, though, managed to buy themselves more time — they said, to more fully investigate Hagel's background — by waging a filibuster against the nomination on Feb. 14.
Democrats angrily protested the delay, especially as current Defense Secretary Leon Panetta planned to leave the job, as dangerous and unprecedented. Republican opponents of Hagel, though, said at that time that they would drop their objections to holding a confirmation vote after last week's recess.
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