The US Senate Armed Services Committee voted
Tuesday to support former senator Chuck Hagel's nomination to become
The committee's recommendation for Hagel's confirmation will be sent to the 100-member full Senate, where a majority is needed to approve his nomination by President Barack Obama to lead the Pentagon.
Hagel, 66, a twice-wounded Vietnam combat veteran who served 12 years in the Senate from Nebraska, is a Republican who has often dissented from his conservative party on defence and foreign policy. Obama, a member of the left-leaning Democratic Party, served with Hagel in the Senate.
Hagel's confirmation is expected to pass the upper chamber, where the Democrats hold a majority. The vote was scheduled for Thursday.
Republicans on the Armed Services Committee all voted against Hagel, citing objections to his current or past positions on issues including support for Israel and the Iranian nuclear programme.
Republicans led by Senator John McCain grilled Hagel during a January 31 confirmation hearing.
The committee voted Tuesday was along party lines, 14-11.
"You can only judge somebody by their past performance in order to predict what their future performance will be," McCain said during Tuesday's two-hour committee debate.
"His performance before this committee was the worst that I have seen of any nominee for office. He refused to answer a simple, straightforward question as to whether the (2007 Iraq troop) surge was a success or not, and whether he supported it or not. That (surge) was a key moment in the history of this country."
Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, defended Hagel.
"For anybody to suggest that he's not qualified ... to be the secretary of defence, I think, is just not accurate and reflects certainly a different understanding of his background and his experience than I have," she said.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham criticized Hagel's opinions and past votes including opposition to legislation putting US sanctions on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.
Graham referred to the looming US withdrawal from Afghanistan next year and the Syrian civil war's potential to destabilize the Middle East: "The next secretary of defence is going to have to deal with a world on fire, and I just believe that the testimony of Senator Hagel was not reassuring."
He said there were "very few people who have been this wrong about so many different things, and I cannot in good conscience support this nomination, because I think it's sending the worst possible signal to our friends and our enemies alike."
If confirmed by the Senate, Hagel, who volunteered for the Army and requested combat duty in Vietnam, would be the first defence secretary to have previously served as an enlisted soldier, rather than an officer. Hagel would succeed Leon Panetta, who wants to step aside.
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