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Senate Expected to Vote on Hagel Secretary of Defense Nomination

Junko Kimura/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- 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 Chuck Hagel as the next secretary of defense Tuesday afternoon.

The Senate returns on Tuesday 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 on Feb. 14.  "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 on Tuesday.  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 past 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."

McCain did not sign the 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 last 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.

Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will not be in Washington, D.C., to attend Hagel’s confirmation hearing.  Pentagon spokesman George Little said on Monday that Panetta, who is at home in California, will watch it on C-SPAN.

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