WASHINGTON — A deeply divided Senate voted on Tuesday to confirm Republican Chuck Hagel to be the nation’s next defense secretary, handing President Barack Obama’s pick the top Pentagon job just days before billions of dollars in automatic, across-the-board budget cuts hit the military.
The vote was 58-41, with four Republicans joining the Democrats in backing the contentious choice.
The vote came just hours after Republicans dropped their delay of the nomination and allowed it to move forward on a 71-27 vote.
Hagel, 66, a former two-term Nebraska senator and twice-wounded Vietnam combat veteran, succeeds Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. Republicans had opposed their onetime colleague, casting him as unqualified for the job, hostile toward Israel and soft on Iran.
Republican Sen. John McCain, of Arizona, said several GOP lawmakers had “a lot of ill will” toward the moderate Republican for his criticism of President George W. Bush over the Iraq War and his backing for Democratic candidates.
Obama called Hagel the “leader that our troops deserve.”
Hagel is expected to be sworn in at the Pentagon on Wednesday.
Inhofe responds to confirmation
Sen. Jim Inhofe, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, continued to voice concerns about former Sen. Chuck Hagel’s appointment as secretary of defense.
“I continue to have serious concerns about the ability of Senator Hagel to lead the Department of Defense during this consequential time for our nation’s security. ... His first order of business as secretary must be averting the devastating cuts to our military associated with sequestration. As testimony from our most distinguished senior military leaders over the last several months has made clear, these cuts will result in a hollow force that, for the first time in recent history, will be unable to respond to contingencies around the world. It is my hope that Senator Hagel will not want to be known as the secretary of defense responsible for overseeing the gutting of our military and instead will step up and exhibit the leadership necessary to avert this unacceptable outcome,” Inhofe. R-Tulsa, said.
Both Inhofe and Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, voted against Hagel’s confirmation on Tuesday.
Chris Casteel, Washington Bureau