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Senate moves to final vote on confirming Hagel for Defense

The Senate voted Tuesday to end debate and move to a final vote on former Sen. Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelIntel chief: Federal debt poses 'dire threat' to national security Hagel: Trump is 'an embarrassment' Tax cut complete, hawks push for military increase MORE’s confirmation as Defense secretary.

The 71-27 vote paves the way for a final up-or-down vote on Hagel later Tuesday, and comes after the first-ever filibuster of a Defense Department nominee earlier this month.

Eighteen Republicans voted with Democrats to break the filibuster and end debate, and at least a few of them are expected to support Hagel in a final vote. Sixty votes were needed to end debate.

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All but four Republicans blocked Hagel’s nomination two weeks ago. Two Democratic senators, Frank Lautenberg (N.J.) and Mark UdallMark Emery UdallDemocratic primary could upend bid for Colorado seat Picking 2018 candidates pits McConnell vs. GOP groups Gorsuch's critics, running out of arguments, falsely scream 'sexist' MORE (Colo.), missed the vote.

Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidWATCH: There is no Trump-Russia collusion and the media should stop pushing this The demise of debate in Congress ‘North by Northwest,’ the Carter Page remake MORE (D-Nev.) set up a 4:30 p.m. vote for final confirmation. There were no Republican objections.

The successful cloture vote signals the end of what’s been the most contentious nomination of a Defense secretary in more than two decades. Hagel, a Nebraska Republican, is expected to be approved on a near party-line vote, a rarity for a Defense secretary.

Republicans have hammered Hagel for his positions and statements on Iran, Israel and nuclear weapons, arguing their former Senate colleague is the wrong choice to run the Pentagon.

Hagel critics have fought an uphill fight to stop his nomination because no Democrats have abandoned President Obama’s Defense secretary pick.

Ahead of the vote, Reid blasted Republicans for filibustering Hagel two weeks ago, calling it a waste of time.

“What has the filibuster gained my Republican colleagues? Nothing — nothing has changed in 12 days,” Reid said on the floor Tuesday. “Politically motivated delays send a terrible signal to our enemies around the world.”

Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl LevinCarl Milton LevinSen. Gillibrand, eyeing 2020 bid, rankles some Democrats The Hill's 12:30 Report Congress needs bipartisanship to fully investigate Russian influence MORE (D-Mich.), who cleared Hagel in the committee over Republican requests to delay the vote, downplayed the significance of the GOP delay. He said the process was worked in a “fairly traditional Senate way,” pointing to the 18 Republicans who voted for cloture.

“I thought the rules kind of worked pretty well here,” Levin told reporters after the vote.

Sens. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainLawmakers worry about rise of fake video technology Democrats put Dreamers and their party in danger by playing hardball Trump set a good defense budget, but here is how to make it better MORE (R-Ariz.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamCongress punts fight over Dreamers to March Pence tours Rio Grande between US and Mexico GOP looks for Plan B after failure of immigration measures MORE (R-S.C.) and other GOP senators said two weeks ago they were blocking Hagel because they wanted to give their colleagues more time to look at his record. They also said they would support ending debate once the Senate returned this week.

However, Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeOvernight Defense: First Gitmo transfer under Trump could happen 'soon' | White House says Trump has confidence in VA chief | Russia concedes 'dozens' of civilians injured in Syria clash Pentagon budget euphoria could be short-lived House passes deal to end shutdown MORE (R-Okla.), the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, urged Republicans to vote against cloture once more to stop Hagel’s confirmation.

“This is the one vote that makes a difference,” Inhofe said on the floor Tuesday.

Republicans had previously blocked Hagel’s confirmation just two days after his nomination cleared the Senate Armed Services Committee in a tense hearing. Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzOvernight Health Care: Trump eases rules on insurance outside ObamaCare | HHS office on religious rights gets 300 complaints in a month | GOP chair eyes opioid bill vote by Memorial Day HHS official put on leave amid probe into social media posts Trump, Pence to address CPAC this week MORE (R-Texas) had called for a delay in the vote because he wanted more information from Hagel about who had paid him for speeches. Cruz alleged the funding might have come from radical groups.

Graham and McCain had also threatened to block Hagel in order to get more information from the Obama administration on last year’s attack in Benghazi, Libya. They received a letter from the White House ahead of the vote, but still voted against cloture because of the other GOP calls for information.

Republicans and Hagel critics had hoped they could defeat his nomination when it was first announced last month, but those hopes faded after Sen. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerDemocrats now attack internet rules they once embraced Schumer: Trump budget would ‘cripple’ gun background checks Schumer: Senate Republicans' silence 'deafening' on guns, Russia MORE (D-N.Y.) said he would support Hagel despite his statements on Israel.

The timing of a final up-or-down vote on Hagel will depend on whether all senators are willing to waive the 30 hours of post-cloture time before a final vote can be held.

Updated at 1:36 p.m.