Congressional panel approves Hagel for US defense secretary


Washington: The Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday approved the nomination of former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel as the country’s new defense secretary.

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The committee signed off on the nomination by a vote of 14-11, but now Hagel will have to be approved by the full Senate in a vote that has not yet been scheduled.

Hagel was nominated by President Barack Obama Jan 7 to succeed Leon Panetta as defense chief. Panetta soon will be retiring after 19 months in the post.

The committee’s confirmation came after it had had to delay the vote because some lawmakers had asked for more time to review the nomination, which had met with opposition from some members of the ex-senator’s own party.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, for instance, has threatened to block the confirmation in the full Senate by resorting to a filibuster, which means that Hagel will need 60 votes in his favour out of the 100 in the upper house instead of a simple majority.

Graham has demanded that the White House provide more information about its response to the attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, last year, a strike that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.

Hagel has been criticized for opposing hiking sanctions on Iran and critical comments he has made about the influence of the Jewish lobby in the US Congress, and Graham takes the stance that those viewpoints disqualify him from holding the top defense job.

Another of Hagel’s opponents has been Republican Sen. John McCain, who during the confirmation hearing reproached his former colleague for opposing the 2007 strategy of then-president George W. Bush to send more troops to Iraq.

Hagel does have strong supporters, however, including Democratic Sen. Angus King of Maine, and the White House has expressed confidence that the full Senate will approve his nomination, making him the first low-ranking former infantry soldier to head the Defense Department.