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Senate clears Hagel for confirmation

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It was nearly two weeks ago when the Senate first considered Chuck Hagel's Defense Secretary nomination, and at the time, Americans saw something that's never happened before: the Senate minority filibustered a cabinet nominee, blocking an up-or-down vote for the first time ever.

Even at the time, Republicans conceded they were unlikely to kill Hagel's nomination, but the GOP minority wanted a delay.

Today, the delay ended. The Senate voted 71 to 27 to end debate and bring Hagel's confirmation to the floor for an up-or-down vote. The bipartisan majority included several fierce Republican critics of Hagel, including John McCain and Lindsey Graham.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he expects a final vote later today, perhaps as early as 4:30 p.m. (ET).

While we wait for Hagel's now-inevitable confirmation, I'm still not altogether sure what Republicans were thinking when they launched his doomed crusade against Hagel in the first place. Indeed, other than allowing everyone to laugh at Republican media over the "Friends of Hamas" fiasco last week, what was the point of forcing delays?

What did GOP officials hope to accomplish? There were a few fundraising letters, McCain got to appear on a few more Sunday shows, but the strategy never seemed to come together for the right in any kind of coherent way. They saw President Obama nominate a Republican to his cabinet; it drove them batty; they launched a weak smear campaign; and the whole effort collapsed without anything being accomplished. Last week, several Republicans, on the verge of defeat, even pleaded with the White House to pull Hagel's nomination anyway, just because. Today, with the benefit of hindsight, the request looks even more pathetic.

If there was a point to the GOP's anti-Hagel campaign, it hid well.