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Inhofe Pledges Return to Bipartisanship on Defense Panel

The top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday said he expects the panel to return to its bipartisan roots once Chuck Hagel’s nomination moves through the Senate.

The debate over Hagel, President Barack Obama’s controversial pick to be the next Pentagon chief, has fractured a committee that is known for its ability to work across the aisle, even in today’s politically charged environment.

“They have to put on their show. We have to put on our show,” James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma said during an event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “But we get along fine.”

The bipartisan comity that has been a mainstay of the panel, allowing it to push through an authorization measure every year for the last five decades, has frayed in recent weeks under the strain of Hagel’s nomination.

That was no more evident than on Tuesday, when the panel voted along party lines to approve the former Republican senator from Nebraska after a series of heated exchanges. The tension peaked when Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz implied, without offering any evidence, that Hagel might have received indirect payments from nations such as Saudi Arabia and North Korea.

Fueling the tension, Inhofe suggested Hagel was “cozy” with Iran.

After Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., filed cloture on Hagel’s nomination on Wednesday afternoon, Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., scolded Cruz on the Senate floor. Cruz’s accusation, Levin said, is “offensive to those of us who have served with him and is beneath the dignity of the United States Senate.”

Inhofe, one of the most conservative members of the Senate, who took over as the Armed Services ranking member at the beginning of this Congress, said Thursday the panel needs to get beyond this particular nomination.

“You’ll see the committee like it was before,” he said.

Frank Oliveri contributed to this report.

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