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The nomination of Chuck Hagel, a decorated Vietnam combat veteran, to be the next defense secretary was approved Tuesday by the Senate Armed Services Committee on a party-line vote.
The 14-11 vote came after 2 1/2 hours of debate.
A vote by the full Senate is possible by week's end after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he might break with Senate tradition by not allowing Republican opponents of the nomination to hold up the vote.
"The president needs to have a secretary of defense in whom he has trust, who will give him unvarnished advice, a person of temerity and one who has a personal understanding of the consequences of decisions relative to the use of forces," said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the armed services committee chairman who pushed the Hagel nomination through the committee.
The final vote on Hagel came in the panel's gilded and cramped formal hearing room, a space long ago abandoned for most meetings because there is little room for the public and press. The fierce opposition to Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska, in the usually bipartisan panel had committee members concerned about the tenor of debate that will confront the rest of the Obama administration.
Levin said he views the battle over Hagel as a battle over President Obama's foreign policy. "Our vote on Sen. Hagel's nomination will not change those policies," Levin said.
Levin also said he hoped the bipartisan tradition of the committee would survive.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a longtime friend of Hagel's who once mentioned the possibility of naming him as defense secretary in a potential McCain administration, was one of those who voted against the nomination.
McCain said he remains unsatisfied with answers to Hagel's questions on a wide range of issues, including his refusal to acknowledge that the Iraq surge he had opposed was, in the end, successful.
Another Hagel opponent, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said he hoped people did not read too much into the vote: "People ask me what has happened to the committee. I say, ‘Nothing, we just disagree from time to time.' "
Graham said Hagel's testimony on a variety of issues "was not reassuring."