WASHINGTON – Chuck Hagel moved a step closer to confirmation as Defense secretary after the Senate voted Tuesday afternoon 71-27 to end a GOP-led filibuster of his controversial nomination. A final vote is expected to take place at 1:30 p.m. PST.
Hagel will likely win final confirmation with fewer votes, however, making him the first successful Pentagon chief to attain the post with more than two dissenting votes in decades. Leon Panetta, the outgoing secretary, was confirmed unanimously in 2011.
According to Senate rules a single senator can still delay a final vote for 30 hours, though it was unclear if any would do so. Even with an additional delay and the first-ever filibuster for a Defense nominee in history, Hagel will have been confirmed more quickly than Panetta was by three days.
Republicans who opposed Hagel’s nomination cited a litany of past statements on Israel and Iran, as well as his staunch opposition to U.S. strategy in the Iraq war during the Bush administration.
The former Nebraska senator’s shaky performance during a Jan. 31 confirmation hearing likely ensured that the Republican would be confirmed almost exclusively with Democratic votes; just three Republicans have said they will vote to confirm him. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Monday that it was the worst performance by any Cabinet appointment in his tenure.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) also used Hagel’s nomination as leverage to press the Obama administration to answer his questions about the terrorist raid on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Libya that led to four American casualties, including the ambassador. Graham, as well as McCain, have said they will do the same with the nomination of John Brennan as the next CIA director.