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NATO meeting: Chuck Hagel misses his debutant ball

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That reasoning appeared to turn on its head the argument of Hagel’s Democratic supporters – that it is “unprecedented” for senators to hold up a vote on a president’s Defense secretary nominee along party lines.

Whether the senators’ letter will have any impact on Hagel’s prospects remains unclear. White House spokesman Jay Carney said the senators and their letter put “political posturing above national security,” and Hagel got a boost Thursday when Richard Shelby (R) of Alabama said in a newspaper interview that he expects to vote in favor of confirmation.

Also seen as a plus for Hagel is the absence of both Sens. John McCain (R) of Arizona and Kelly Ayotte (R) of New Hampshire from the letter to Obama.

Senator McCain, a prominent member of the Armed Services Committee, said last week that he does not believe Hagel is qualified for the Pentagon job but that he thought the nomination would proceed to a vote once Congress is back in session next week. Senator Ayotte, a rising Republican voice on security issues, already voted once to block a Hagel confirmation vote.

On a simple yea-or-nay vote, Hagel would need the support of 51 senators, a threshold he would be expected to pass given the 55-member Senate Democratic Caucus.

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