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Senate committee postpones vote on Hagel confirmation

Former U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) testifies during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on his nomination to be Defense Secretary,
Former U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) testifies during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on his nomination to be Defense Secretary,

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Senate Armed Services Committee delayed a vote on Chuck Hagel's confirmation as secretary of defense, the panel's chairman said on Wednesday, amid Republican demands for more information from President Barack Obama's nominee.

"The committee's vote on Senator Hagel's nomination has not been scheduled," Senator Carl Levin said in a statement. "I had hoped to hold a vote on the nomination this week, but the committee's review of the nomination is not yet complete."

But the delay is not expected to mean that Hagel will not be confirmed. The former senator's backers are still confident he will succeed the retiring Leon Panetta as Pentagon chief. They attributed the postponement to Republican insistence on political posturing.

Levin, a Democrat, said he intended to schedule a vote as soon as possible.

"There's a sense that Levin is trying to help by giving critical Republicans a win in the battle but not the war. A few more days won't hurt the overall process and can take some of the steam out of Republican tactics," a U.S. official said.

Levin said after Hagel's contentious confirmation hearing last week that he hoped the panel would vote during a meeting on Thursday.

But Republicans said they still wanted more information on issues including the former Republican senator's business dealings and past speeches, and would try to prevent a quick confirmation if they did not get it.

"I look for people to slow this train down, and let's get everything we need. And that's what I want to do," Senator James Inhofe, the committee's senior Republican, told reporters after a news conference on the defense budget.

Levin aides declined to elaborate on why the vote would not take place on Thursday as had been expected.

Hagel has provided some information on his personal finances, but said he could not provide all of what has been requested because it was the property of private organizations that he was not authorized to disclose.

Some Republicans have demanded the texts of speeches by Hagel that the nominee said were not available because he spoke extemporaneously. Others have said they were awaiting results of a 2007 sexual harassment claim against a former member of Hagel's staff by another member of his staff, Foreign Policy reported.

There was no indication Hagel was involved in the incident.

Democrats have characterized the Republicans' objections as a last-ditch effort to convince Obama to withdraw Hagel's nomination, which is not likely.

One Democratic official who supports Hagel criticized political posturing by Republicans and said it was "irresponsible" given pressing national security matters, including the war in Afghanistan.

Hagel, 66, a former senator from Nebraska, faced a barrage of often heated questions about his record from fellow Republicans last week when he appeared before the Armed Services Committee, which must approve his nomination before it faces a vote in the full Senate.

HEARING TESTIMONY CRITICIZED

His appearance before the committee was broadly criticized, with even some Democrats saying he appeared hesitant at times and unprepared when facing tough questions from some fellow Republicans with whom he served during his two terms in the Senate.

But he looks likely to be approved both in the committee - where Democrats outnumber Republicans 14 to 12 - and in the full Senate, where the Democrats control a majority of the seats.

Some of Hagel's most committed opponents had hoped a few Democrats could be persuaded to vote not to confirm him, mainly due to questions his critics have raised over whether he is sufficiently supportive of Israel and tough on Iran.

But no Democrat has come out against Hagel.

All the Democrats on the committee - and possibly some Republicans - are expected to vote yes, as are all 53 Democrats, two independents and a handful of Republicans when he is considered by the full 100-member Senate.

Two Republicans - Mike Johanns of Nebraska, who holds Hagel's old seat, and Thad Cochran of Mississippi - have already said they support Hagel. And more than enough senators have said they would not support procedural maneuvers to block the nomination.

Inhofe had said even before Hagel's hearing that he objected to Obama's choice.

Inhofe said Republicans concerned about Hagel's nomination believed they could prevent a quick confirmation in the full Senate even though Senate rules would not allow them to prevent a committee vote.

"Once it's out of committee, then there are all kinds of ways of doing it, to make the demands of things that we were not able to get during the committee process," he said. "I'm not talking about how we're going to do it. We're just going to do it," he said.

(Additional reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Jackie Frank and Eric Walsh)

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