Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb.(Photo: Lauren Victoria Burke, AP)
WASHINGTON (USA TODAY) -- The Senate voted 58-41 Tuesday to confirm Chuck Hagel
as the new Defense secretary to succeed Leon Panetta, thus ending a
contentious battle over his nomination.
Senators voted 71-27
earlier Tuesday afternoon to end debate on President Obama's nomination
of Hagel, a Republican former senator from Nebraska.
immediately inherit a budget crisis. Last week, the Pentagon announced
that it plans to furlough the majority of its 800,000 civilian employees
to help meet a $46 billion shortfall caused by automatic spending cuts
that begin March 1 and its stop-gap budget that prevents shifting funds
to urgent needs.
The contentious nomination process will not
prevent Hagel from dealing with Congress, George Little, the Pentagon
press secretary, said after the vote. Hagel is a "team player" whose
interest in cooperation will extend to Congress, Little said.
Hagel has been briefed on issues facing the Pentagon and will be ready to start work immediately upon confirmation, Little said.
faced opposition from his own party. He cleared the Senate Armed
Services Committee on a 14-11 party-line vote on Feb. 12. On Feb. 14,
Republicans blocked a final vote on the nomination. His nomination sat
idle last week with the Senate in recess. Of his major critics, Sen.
John McCain, R-Ariz., signaled that he would no longer oppose a vote on
Hagel's nomination, setting the stage for Tuesday's vote.
McCain voted to end debate but against Hagel's confirmation.
such as McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, have
continued to say Hagel is unfit to lead the military. As a senator,
Hagel approved military action in Iraq but later criticized the Bush
administration's handling of the war. His criticism of the surge of
troops in 2007 that helped bring down violence there angered McCain, who
blasted Hagel for it at his confirmation hearing.
member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. James Inhofe,
R-Okla., opposed Hagel, and questioned his toughness on Iran and its
nuclear ambitions. Graham has said comments Hagel has made show a lack
of commitment to Israel. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, raised questions about
the propriety of Hagel's income, suggesting at one point that he might
have received funds from North Korea.
Hagel has maintained, in answers to the Senate, that he has received no money from such nations.
Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who leads the Armed Services
Committee, has said Hagel supplied the committee with the information it
needed to approve his nomination.
Hagel, 66, was born in North
Platte, Neb. In 1968, Hagel and his brother Tom were both wounded in
combat in Vietnam. Chuck Hagel rescued his brother and was awarded two
Purple Heart medals.
Hagel served two terms in the Senate from 1997 to 2009.