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After seven-week struggle, Hagel poised for defense confirmation

Former Senator Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., testifies during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on his nomination to be Defense Secretary, on Capitol Hill, in this Jan. 31, 2013, file photo.
Former Senator Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., testifies during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on his nomination to be Defense Secretary, on Capitol Hill, in this Jan. 31, 2013, file photo.Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

Chuck Hagel’s seven-week struggle to win confirmation as secretary of defense appears near the end with an expected Senate vote Tuesday on his nomination.

President Barack Obama’s choice to run the Pentagon is expected to win confirmation since a few Republicans announced that they’ll join Senate Democrats in voting for him.

The vote would put an end to a rocky nomination process that came after Hagel’s GOP foes succeeded in delaying the confirmation.

Lead opponent, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, insinuated two weeks ago that Hagel might have given as-yet undisclosed speeches to “extreme or radical groups” or received money from foreign sources or from defense contractors in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

But Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., rebuked the latter saying Hagel complied with the committee’s financial disclosure requirements and deserved confirmation.

Last week 15 GOP senators asked Obama to withdraw Hagel’s nomination, but it was clear that not enough Republican senators would vote to further delay Hagel’s confirmation by extended debate or filibuster.

The former Nebraska Republican senator turned against his party by campaigning for Democratic Senate candidate Bob Kerrey in Nebraska last year.

He’d also harshly criticized President George W. Bush after the Iraq war became unpopular in 2006, suggesting at one point that Bush might be impeached. These remarks made him popular with Democrats but something of a pariah in his own party.

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The antagonism of Cruz and several other Republican senators turned to disdain once Hagel testified before the Armed Services Committee last month. Hagel was forced to amend or retract comments he’d made about Iran, Israel and other matters.

At one point during his confirmation hearing, when discussing U.S. policy toward Iran’s efforts to build nuclear weapons, Hagel said, “I’ve just been handed a note that I misspoke and said I supported the president’s position on ‘containment.’ If I said that, I meant to say that obviously – his position on containment – we don’t have a position on containment.”

Levin intervened: “Just to make sure your correction is clear, we do have a position on containment – which is we do not favor containment.”

“It was the most unimpressive performance that I have seen in watching many nominees who came before the committee,” said Republican Arizona Sen. John McCain, a Hagel opponent.

Related: What problems will Hagel inherit at Department of Defense?

But Democrats on the panel repeatedly praised Hagel for having served in combat in Vietnam.

From the beginning, Obama portrayed Hagel as a man who was ideally qualified to head the Defense Department because, as the president said when announcing the nomination, he “knows that war is not an abstraction. He understands that sending young Americans to fight and bleed in the dirt and mud, that’s something we only do when it’s absolutely necessary.”

In presenting Hagel as his pick, Obama declared that “Chuck represents the bipartisan tradition that we need more of in Washington.”

Obama said that he was courageous and independent in his views “and that’s exactly the spirit I want on my national security team, a recognition that when it comes to the defense of our country, we are not Democrats or Republicans; we are Americans.”

But Republicans such as Cruz said Hagel was not up to the job of running the Pentagon. Cruz went so far as to argue that Hagel, if confirmed, would “make military conflict in the next four years substantially more likely” because his views on negotiating with Tehran would encourage the Iranians to accelerate their nuclear weapons development program.