WASHINGTON - Tennessee's Republican pair of senators reversed themselves today and nudged a controversial former colleague toward leading America's military.
Two weeks after joining a successful effort to delay Chuck Hagel's appointment, U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker helped him along. The former Nebraska Republican senator could be confirmed as defense secretary as early as this evening.
Stopping debate over Hagel's nomination required a three-fifths majority; the Senate voted 71-27 to do exactly that. Hagel now proceeds to a simple-majority confirmation vote.
U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., also voted to cease debate after helping delay Hagel's nomination two weeks ago. But the other Peach State Republican, Sen. Johnny Isakson, repeated his Feb. 14 vote to stall further.
Republicans have questioned Hagel's statements about nuclear weapons, Israel, Iran and America's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But Democrats embrace Hagel's skepticism and say the GOP's concerns are overblown.
Most Republicans, including those from Tennessee and Georgia, have said they're leaning against supporting Hagel on the final vote. But all 53 Senate Democrats and a few Republicans are expected to vote for Hagel, meaning sure confirmation.
The final vote is expected this evening or later this week.