Senate Expected to Vote on Hagel Nomination

After a battle lasting nearly two months, characterized by tough interrogation and a partisan divide, lawmakers are expected to confirm President Obama's nomination of Republican Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense this afternoon.

The Senate returns today after a week off from debating Hagel's merit. Republicans blocked a cloture vote to confirm Hagel on Valentine's Day, pushing the decision back until after their President's Day recess.

Democrats framed that rejection as a filibuster, while Republicans said they needed another week to discuss the candidate's record.

"This is a very controversial nominee, there is a desire to not end debate now," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said that Thursday. "We feel like come back next week, after the break, unless there is some bombshell I'd be ready to move on to vote."

Ten days later, GOP Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and John McCain of Arizona predicted the Senate will go through with a vote today. The nomination is likely to pass but with many no votes from the GOP.

A group of 15 Republicans sent a letter to Obama last week asking him to withdraw Hagel's nomination. Coburn, one of the senators who signed that letter, said the fight among lawmakers over Hagel's qualifications would weaken him should he become secretary.

"I like Chuck Hagel as an individual, but the fact is, in modern times, we haven't had one defense secretary that's had more than three votes against him," Coburn said on "Fox News Sunday" this weekend. "And you're going to have 40 votes against him, or 35 votes. And that sends a signal to our allies as well as our foes that he does not have broad support in the U.S. Congress, which limits his ability to carry out his job."

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McCain did not sign that letter.

"I do not believe that Chuck Hagel, who is a friend of mine, is qualified to be secretary of defense, but I do believe that elections have consequences -- unfortunately," McCain told CNN's Candy Crowley Sunday on "State of the Union," explaining why he chose not to sign. "And the president of the United States was reelected."

Obama announced his support for Hagel two weeks before the kick-off of his second term.

Hagel is a former GOP senator from Nebraska and Purple-Heart-decorated Vietnam veteran. If confirmed, he would be the first former enlisted member of the Armed Forces to serve as secretary of defense, but he has been an unpopular pick from the start, with groups claiming he was anti-Israel and anti-gay rights.

The hearings over Hagel's nomination have had tense moments, with many serious accusations and at least one bordering on the bizarre.

Republicans have raised questions about Hagel's finances. A letter signed by 20 senators faulted Hagel for failing to disclose information about compensation he and organizations he worked with received during the last decade.

McCain also accused Hagel of being on "the wrong side of" history for his opposition to President Bush's 2007 surge of American troops in Iraq.

A conservative website attacked Hagel for taking money from a group called "Friends of Hamas," which was later revealed to be an imaginary entity dreamed up by New York Daily News reporter Dan Friedman.

If confirmed, Hagel would take the place of departing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

Panetta bemoaned the drawn-out confirmation hearing process at an event at the Pentagon, saying the experience was "like it's 'Groundhog Day' around here."

"I have a hard time," Panetta told an audience gathered to honor former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. "You know? I've got -- My office is packed up. Sylvia is packing at home. I'm ready to go."

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