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Sen. Coats: Hagel hearing performance may imperil Defense job

Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) said Friday former Sen. Chuck Hagel’s (R-Neb.) shaky performance at his Thursday confirmation hearing to lead the Pentagon may have cost the nominee the votes he needs for confirmation.

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“I would want to go back and recount those after yesterday if I was endorsing [former] Sen. Chuck Hagel,” Coats told CNN’s Soledad O’Brien.

Coats is one of two Republicans, the other being Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who came out in opposition of Hagel’s nomination after the hearing. Democrats hold 55 seats, and Hagel would need 51 votes for confirmation, barring a GOP filibuster.

“I think it’s a little too early to tell, but based on the performance yesterday, I think new questions will arise,” Coats said. “If Democrats want to salute the president and turn their head the other way, I suppose he could be nominated, but I do think people on both sides, whether Republicans or Democrats, have some real questions about whether this is the right person for this critical position.”

Hagel endured a difficult day of grilling by his former Republican colleagues on Thursday, stumbling over some answers — he described Iran as having a “legitimate, elected government” at one point — and doing little to convert critics who have deemed him unfit to serve as Defense secretary because of some of his past statements and positions.

Conservative groups jumped on several of his answers by releasing videos critical of his comments on Iran and his statement supporting President Obama’s policy of “containment.” Hagel later had to clarify both of those statements.

Still, Hagel didn’t seem to lose any Democratic supporters. The Senate could vote on Hagel’s nomination as early as next Thursday.