Shelby to back Hagel, allowing nomination to move toward approval

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama's nominee to be the next Pentagon chief now has the Senate votes he will need.

Five-term Republican Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama says he will vote to confirm Chuck Hagel as defense secretary. Shelby tells a newspaper (the Decatur Daily) that he has concerns about Hagel, but that he's "probably as good as we're going to get."

A spokesman for Shelby confirms that unless there are surprises between now and Tuesday, when the Senate vote is expected, Shelby will back Hagel.

Obama's choice to succeed Leon Panetta has faced strong Republican opposition -- even though Hagel himself is a former Republican senator. Republicans succeeded last week in maintaining a filibuster -- the first ever of a nominee for Pentagon chief. It would take 60 votes to end it.

Shelby now stands with two other Republicans who have indicated their support for Hagel -- Thad Cochran of Mississippi and Mike Johanns (JOH'-hanz) of Nebraska. Those votes -- combined with 55 from Democrats and two from Republicans who are opposed to delaying tactics -- would give the nomination the 60 needed to move ahead to an up-or-down vote.

But foes aren't giving up. Fifteen Republican senators opposed to the nomination are calling on Obama to withdraw it, arguing that Hagel lacks bipartisan support.

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