WASHINGTON — After a combative two-hour debate that tested the bounds of Senate collegiality, the Armed Services Committee on Tuesday approved the nomination of former senator Chuck Hagel as defense secretary on a sharply partisan vote.
The 14-11 vote to send the nomination to the Senate floor with a favorable recommendation was just the latest step in a process that has deepened festering hostilities between congressional Republicans and the White House and exposed stark disagreements over wartime foreign policy.
After the vote, Republicans threatened to try to filibuster the nomination of Hagel, a decorated Vietnam War veteran with whom some had worked as a member of their own party. Democrats were promising to force a vote of the full Senate as early as Wednesday night.
At times, the hearing slipped into an unusually accusatory and bitter back-and-forth, with Republicans such as Ted Cruz, a freshman senator from Texas, going as far as to suggest Hagel had accepted money from nations that oppose US interests.
Saying that he had serious doubts about the source of payments Hagel had accepted for speaking engagements, Cruz declared, ‘‘It is at a minimum relevant to know if that $200,000 that he deposited in his bank account came directly from Saudi Arabia, came directly from North Korea.’’
Senator Bill Nelson of Florida and other Democrats countered by saying Republicans had unfairly questioned the integrity of Hagel, a two-time Purple Heart recipient, and had undermined the work of the normally bipartisan committee.
“Senator Cruz has gone over the line,’’ Nelson said. ‘‘He basically has impugned the patriotism of the nominee.’’
Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, who is opposing his former colleague, also bristled at the attacks, saying that ‘‘no one on this committee should at any time impugn his character or his integrity.’’
Tension reached its height when Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the senior Republican on the committee, said those who had suggested that Hagel was ‘‘cozy’’ with terrorist states had a basis for the allegations because Iran expressed support for his nomination.
‘‘You can’t get any cozier than that,’’ Inhofe said.
Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri, gasped. ‘‘Senator Inhofe, be careful,’’ she later warned him. ‘‘What if some horrible organization said tomorrow that you were the best guy that they knew?’’
Then, looking directly at Cruz, she insisted that the president should be free to choose his own Cabinet.
‘‘As much as some people in this room don’t like it,’’ she said, ‘‘he was elected president of the United States by the American people. And he has selected an honorable veteran, a Republican who has served our country in various capacities, including in this body.’’
Hagel has drawn criticism over past remarks that were seen as anti-Jewish, anti-gay, and insufficiently supportive of US foreign policy.
And a confirmation hearing performance that members of both parties said was uneven — at one point he misrepresented the Obama administration’s policy toward Iran as ‘‘containment’’ before correcting himself to say it was preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear arms — seemed to do him little good.