WASHINGTON — Democrats on the Senate Armed Services Committee backed former Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska to lead the Pentagon on Tuesday, paving the way for the full Senate to vote on President Barack Obama's nominee this week.
The committee vote predictably split along party lines, with the 14 Democrats voting in favor of moving the nomination to the floor and 11 Republicans voting no. One Republican was absent.
Democrats backed the former Republican lawmaker despite a performance during his Jan. 31 confirmation hearing that even supporters called underwhelming. Republicans on the committee continued to voice strong reservations about Hagel, who has faced persistent questions about his views on Iran, Israel and nuclear policy.
"The next secretary of defense will have to deal with a world on fire," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said before the vote, explaining his opposition.
Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said efforts to portray Hagel as a radical ideologue were off base, and he pushed back on Republican demands for more information about the nominee, including additional details about his finances.
"Despite efforts of some to portray him as outside the mainstream of American foreign policy, Senator Hagel has received broad support from a wide array of senior statesmen and defense and foreign policy organizations," Levin said.