Hagel Confirmed as Defense Secretary, 58-41; Obama Calls It ‘Bipartisan’

By Patrick Goodenough | February 26, 2013 | 7:31 PM EST

Former Sen. Chuck Hagel, President Obama's choice for Defense Secretary, testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Jan. 31, 2013. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

(CNSNews.com) – With four Republicans siding with Democrats, the U.S. Senate voted Tuesday to confirm Chuck Hagel as President Obama’s secretary of defense, a nomination that drew strong opposition within the Republican former senator’s own party, with some troubled by past statements on Israel and Iran.

GOP Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.), Thad Cochran (Miss.), Mike Johanns, (Nebr.) and Richard Shelby (Ala.) supported Hagel in the 58-41 vote. No Democrats opposed him. (Sen. Frank Lautenberg, a staunchly pro-Israel New Jersey Democrat who recently announced he will not seek re-election next year, was reportedly home ill.)

In a statement responding to the vote, Obama described the confirmation as “bipartisan.”

Earlier in the day the Senate voted 71-27 to end debate, thus necessitating only a simple majority for final confirmation.

Signaling a likely testy time ahead, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, did not waver in his opposition.

Speaking on the Senate floor ahead of the vote he conceded that Hagel had had a “brilliant military career” but said that was not the issue in dispute.

He said Hagel was one of only two senators to vote against extending sanctions against Iran, had opposed a (non-binding) call to have the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps designated as a terrorist group, and was “one of only four that refused to sign a letter of solidarity with Israel.”

Inhofe disclosed that he had recently phoned outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to ask him to stay on, and said he accepted that Panetta had family reasons for being unable to do so.

He then named former Undersecretary of Defense Michele Flournoy and Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter as others who would not be controversial – “we have a lot of them out there that could be confirmed in a matter of minutes.”

Minority Whip Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said Hagel was “clearly the wrong man for the job.”

Cornyn earlier led a group of 15 Republican senators urging Obama to withdraw the Hagel nomination, arguing that “[t]he occupant of this critical office should be someone whose candidacy is neither controversial nor divisive.”

“A great many of us have been concerned about Hagel’s longstanding record of antagonism towards Israel and unwillingness to stand vigorously against Iran's acquiring nuclear weapons,” freshman Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a member of the Armed Services Committee, said in a statement Tuesday.

“I hope those concerns are proven wrong. I fervently hope that this confirmation does not embolden Iran to accelerate their nuclear weapons development; I fervently hope that this confirmation does not undermine our vital alliance with Israel.”

In his statement responding to the vote, Obama said, “With the bipartisan confirmation of Chuck Hagel as our next secretary of defense, we will have the defense secretary our nation needs and the leader our troops deserve.”

“I will be counting on Chuck’s judgment and counsel as we end the war in Afghanistan, bring our troops home, stay ready to meet the threats of our time and keep our military the finest fighting force in the world,” he said.

“Most of all, I am grateful to Chuck for reminding us that when it comes to our national defense, we are not Democrats or Republicans, we are Americans, and our greatest responsibility is the security of the American people.”

Hagel is expected to be sworn in on Wednesday.

(An earlier version of this report included a typing error in the headline.)

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow