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Votes line up for Hagel confirmation

WASHINGTON -- Chuck Hagel has enough votes to win Senate confirmation next week as the nation's next defense secretary following a senior Republican's decision to back President Barack Obama's choice.

Barring any new developments, Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama said he would vote for Hagel. "He's probably as good as we're going to get," Shelby told the Decatur Daily in his home state.

If confirmed, Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska, would succeed Leon Panetta, who is stepping down after four years, first as CIA director and then Pentagon chief.

Obama's choice has faced strong Republican opposition, and last week the GOP succeeded in an unprecedented filibuster of a nominee for defense secretary. In fresh evidence of the resistance, 15 Republican senators sent a letter to Obama on Thursday calling on him to withdraw the nomination.

Hagel is expected to get all 55 Democratic votes and the support of three Republicans -- Sens. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Mike Johanns of Nebraska and Shelby. Two other Republicans -- Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska -- voted last week to allow the nomination to move ahead and are expected to do the same next week, giving Hagel the 60 votes out of 100 needed to end a filibuster.

A vote on confirmation, with only a majority necessary, could occur as early as Wednesday. -- AP

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