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Republicans opposing Hagel nomination say vote should go on

| Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013, 7:15 p.m.

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Republican opponents of former Sen. Chuck Hagel's stalled bid to become Defense secretary said Sunday that they'll probably allow his Senate confirmation vote to proceed unless material more damaging to the nominee — and, by extension, the Obama administration — surfaces in the coming week.

“No, I don't believe he's qualified,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said of his fellow Republican. “But I don't believe that we should hold up his nomination any further, because I think it's (been) a reasonable amount of time to have questions answered.”

Senate Republicans voted last week to sustain a filibuster and block the former Nebraska senator's nomination from advancing toward confirmation.

The Obama administration publicly shrugged off, though, the notion that the controversy over Hagel's stumbling answers during his Senate confirmation hearing and the GOP delay on the vote had damaged Hagel's ability to serve effectively.

“No, he's not going to be a weaker Defense secretary,” said Denis McDonough, the president's new chief of staff told “Meet the Press,” “he's going to be a great defense secretary.”

McCain and other Republicans have angered President Obama by delaying him from rounding out his second-term national security team.

Meanwhile on Fox News Sunday, Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.), who alongside McCain had spearheaded the effort to block Hagel, said he had accepted a denial from the nominee over remarks Hagel made in 2007.

Hagel in a speech said, he said “the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people” in Washington.

“I got a letter back from Sen. Hagel in response to my question: Did you say that, and do you believe that? And the letter said he did not recall saying that. He disavows that statement,” Graham said told Fox News.

Echoing McCain's comments, Graham said he believed Hagel to be “one of the most unqualified, radical choices for secretary of Defense in a very long time.”

“But at the end of the day,” Graham continued, “this is the president's decision.”

The remarks signal that a Senate vote on the nomination will be allowed to go ahead.

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