WASHINGTON - The US Senate cleared the way on Tuesday for the likely confirmation of Chuck Hagel as US President Barack Obama's new secretary of defense.

The Senate voted 71-27 to end debate and move forward, almost two weeks after Republicans launched a filibuster to block Hagel's nomination. It was the first time such a procedural tactic had been used to delay consideration of a nominee for secretary of defense.

More than 15 Republicans joined with Democrats to open the way for a vote by the full Senate, now scheduled for 4:30 p.m. EST (2130 GMT).

The Democratic majority, joined by at least three Republicans, is expected to approve the nomination when the issue gets to the floor.

Many Republicans have fiercely opposed Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska who angered party leaders when he criticized former President George W. Bush's handling of the Iraq war.

Some have also raised questions about whether Hagel is sufficiently supportive of Israel or tough enough on Iran.

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