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WASHINGTON (AP) - Chuck Hagel faces his first major hurdle in his bid to become the nation's defense secretary as a bitterly divided Senate Armed Services Committee pushes toward a vote on his nomination.

The panel is scheduled to meet this afternoon to discuss and vote on President Barack Obama's choice to succeed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who is stepping down after four years as CIA director and Pentagon chief. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is pressing for a full Senate vote on Hagel later in the week.

The former Nebraska senator faces fierce opposition from Republicans who have challenged his past statements and votes on Israel, Iran, Iraq and nuclear weapons.

The committee vote will probably break along party lines - 14 Democrats for Hagel, 12 Republicans against their former colleague.