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Third Republican comes out in support of Hagel; 15 others ask Obama to withdraw nomination

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL)
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL)Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images file photo

Even as one of their members, Richard Shelby of Alabama, now says he will vote in favor of not only cloture for Chuck Hagel to be defense secretary but for the Hagel nomination itself, 15 other Senate Republicans are calling for President Obama to withdraw his nomination.

"While we respect Senator Hagel's honorable military service, in the interest of national security, we respectfully request that you withdraw his nomination," the Republicans wrote to Obama and announced in a press release from Sen. John Cornyn's office. "It would be unprecedented for a Secretary of Defense to take office without the broad base of bipartisan support and confidence needed to serve effectively in this critical position. Senator Hagel's performance at his confirmation hearing was deeply concerning, leading to serious doubts about his basic competence to meet the substantial demands of the office. While Senator Hagel's erratic record and myriad conversions on key national security issues are troubling enough, his statements regarding Iran were disconcerting."

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Cornyn of Texas is up for reelection this cycle and has a Lone Star State freshman, Ted Cruz, rising as the new darling of the right. The signers of the letter include Cruz, James Inhofe (R-OK), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Roger Wicker (R-MS), David Vitter (R-LA), Mike Lee (R-UT), Pat Toomey (R-PA), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Dan Coats (R-IN), Ron Johnson (R - WI), Jim Risch (R-ID), John Barrasso (R-WY), Tom Coburn (R-OK), and Tim Scott (R-SC).

Notably not signing on, however, were Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), two-thirds of the Graham-McCain-Ayotte grouping.

Read the full letter here

Shelby becomes the third Republican to voice public support for Hagel, giving him 58 public yes votes. The other two Republicans to come out in support of Hagel are Thad Cochran of Mississippi and Mike Johanns of Nebraska, who filled Hagel's seat in the Senate. (Johanns announced Monday that he would be retiring when his term ends in 2014.)

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL)Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images file photo

"Sen. Shelby intends to support the Hagel nomination barring any unforeseen disqualifications that come to light before the vote," Hagel spokesman Jonathan Graffeo told NBC. "That is not a change of heart. He has always been inclined to support Hagel, but he voted against cloture as a courtesy to members who said they needed more time to examine Hagel's record."

Several Republicans have indicated they would likely support at least cloture after the Senate gets back from its break next week.