Defense & National Security

Chuck Hagel Confirmed as Secretary of Defense

Chuck Hagel Confirmed as Secretary of Defense

Chuck Hagel has been confirmed as U.S. Secretary of Defense, ending a  long seesaw battle over his nomination. The Senate moments ago voted 58 to 41 in favor of confirming Hagel. Hagel now replaces Leon Panetta at America’s top defense spot. (A full roll call of the Senate vote is at the end of this article.)

While the straight popular vote in the Democratic-controlled Senate had been expected, Hagel’s bid to become the head of the Department of Defense surprisingly has been the most contentious of the Obama Administration, with Republicans condemning the former Republican senator and Vietnam veteran for his views on Israel, Iran and the U.S. defense budget. Two weeks ago, Democrats failed to reach the 60-vote threshold to end debate and bring the nomination to a vote.

Republican senators continued their criticism of Hagel during today’s endgame. Sen. Dan Coats (R-Indiana) chided Hagel for  “an embarrassing lack of knowledge” of Iran policy — referring to a moment in his confirmation hearings during which Hagel incorrectly claimed to support U.S. “containment” policy toward Iran. (This is not U.S. policy.) Coats and Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) both argued against Hagel by pointing out that he had more votes against his nomination than any Secretary of Defense in history — a circular argument that nevertheless underscored just how polarizing the Hagel nomination has been.

Despite this opposition, the Senate earlier today easily voted to end its filibuster on Hagel, with a 71 to 27 cloture vote in which 18 Republicans joined with the Democrats to bring Hagel’s bid to a vote. Although the Democrats have 53 seats in the Senate and caucus with two Independents, Sens. Frank Lautenberg (New Jersey) and Mark Udall (Colorado) missed the cloture vote.

Today’s vote ends a long fight between the Obama Administration (which nominated Hagel at the beginning of the year) and Senate Republicans who expressed grave concerns that Hagel was insufficiently supportive of Israel and unwilling to pursue a hard military line on Iran. Republicans also condemned Hagel’s characterization of the Defense Department’s budget as “bloated.” Hagel’s nomination saga was complicated by his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, during which he appeared so groggy, confused and ill-prepared that even former Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs called him “unprepared and unimpressive.”

In the last few weeks, Hagel’s nomination has also been jeopardized by a steady stream of new information — not all of it accurate — concerning speeches he has given in the past. Although Hagel disclosed details of many speeches he has given over the last five years, reports in Fox News, Breitbart.com and other media have raised concerns about anti-Israel comments in previous speeches. FreeBeacon.com ran a report just before the filibustered cloture vote suggesting Hagel had made some offensive comments about Israel during a speech at Rutgers University. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) sent Hagel an open letter demanding details.

Earlier today, Slate’s Dave Weigel quoted Graham as saying Hagel had denied making these comments, although FreeBeacon.com contends he has not responded to Graham’s letter. (Neither transcripts nor recordings of the speech have been made public.)

Much of the energy of the campaign against Hagel flagged after the hasty collapse of report in Breitbart.com, describing a group called “Friends of Hamas” that was rumored to be supporting Hagel’s nomination. This report was cited in the Senate, but subsequent reporting by Slate revealed that no such group exists.

Nevertheless, Hagel’s public record of comments — including claims about the power of the Jewish lobby and the Senate’s fear of running afoul of Israel supporters — made him an extremely controversial nominee, and during his confirmation hearing Hagel repeatedly retracted previous statements.

The battle over Hagel’s Israel comments produced one truly odd plot twist when Sen Charles Schumer (D-New York), a Hagel supporter, claimed the Defense candidate had been moved almost to tears during a private conversation in which Schumer explained that Hagel’s comments were offensive to Jewish Americans.

But in the absence of any clear smoking gun, holding up the Hagel nomination became politically untenable for Senate Republicans. Although all but three Republicans voted against cloture two weeks ago, influential Sens. John McCain (R-Arizona), Saxby Chambliss (R-Georgia) and others indicated their intention to end debate when the Senate returned from its recess today. More recently, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) announced he would vote for Hagel’s confirmation. Two other Republicans, Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran and Nebraska Sen. Mike Johanns, had earlier announced their intention to vote for Hagel.

Although Hagel has now been confirmed, the nomination process is likely to color his relations with the Senate going forward. It also tested the relationship of President Obama with his own party, with Schumer and many other pro-Israel Democrats wavering briefly (and according to the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward, secretly urging the president to withdraw the nomination). The Hagel nomination also revealed some fault lines between Republican elder statesmen like McCain and younger firebrands including Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas) and Marco Rubio (Florida), both of whom turned their questioning of Hagel into highly dramatic moments.

Another younger Republican, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), had opposed Hagel out of concern that his financial disclosures have not been sufficient. Paul, a small-government conservative who, like his father former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), holds views that are usually at odds with neoconservatives and centrist Republicans, opposed lifting the filibuster in both cloture votes, but he ended up voting for Hagel in the actual confirmation.

The full Senate vote follows:

Alexander (R-TN), Nay
Ayotte (R-NH), Nay
Baldwin (D-WI), Yea
Barrasso (R-WY), Nay
Baucus (D-MT), Yea
Begich (D-AK), Yea
Bennet (D-CO), Yea
Blumenthal (D-CT), Yea
Blunt (R-MO), Nay
Boozman (R-AR), Nay
Boxer (D-CA), Yea
Brown (D-OH), Yea
Burr (R-NC), Nay
Cantwell (D-WA), Yea
Cardin (D-MD), Yea
Carper (D-DE), Yea
Casey (D-PA), Yea
Chambliss (R-GA), Nay
Coats (R-IN), Nay
Coburn (R-OK), Nay
Cochran (R-MS), Yea
Collins (R-ME), Nay
Coons (D-DE), Yea
Corker (R-TN), Nay
Cornyn (R-TX), Nay
Cowan (D-MA), Yea
Crapo (R-ID), Nay
Cruz (R-TX), Nay
Donnelly (D-IN), Yea
Durbin (D-IL), Yea
Enzi (R-WY), Nay
Feinstein (D-CA), Yea
Fischer (R-NE), Nay
Flake (R-AZ), Nay
Franken (D-MN), Yea
Gillibrand (D-NY), Yea
Graham (R-SC), Nay
Grassley (R-IA), Nay
Hagan (D-NC), Yea
Harkin (D-IA), Yea
Hatch (R-UT), Nay
Heinrich (D-NM), Yea
Heitkamp (D-ND), Yea
Heller (R-NV), Nay
Hirono (D-HI), Yea
Hoeven (R-ND), Nay
Inhofe (R-OK), Nay
Isakson (R-GA), Nay
Johanns (R-NE), Yea
Johnson (D-SD), Yea
Johnson (R-WI), Nay
Kaine (D-VA), Yea
King (I-ME), Yea
Kirk (R-IL), Nay
Klobuchar (D-MN), Yea
Landrieu (D-LA), Yea
Lautenberg (D-NJ), Not Voting
Leahy (D-VT), Yea
Lee (R-UT), Nay
Levin (D-MI), Yea
Manchin (D-WV), Yea
McCain (R-AZ), Nay
McCaskill (D-MO), Yea
McConnell (R-KY), Nay
Menendez (D-NJ), Yea
Merkley (D-OR), Yea
Mikulski (D-MD), Yea
Moran (R-KS), Nay
Murkowski (R-AK), Nay
Murphy (D-CT), Yea
Murray (D-WA), Yea
Nelson (D-FL), Yea
Paul (R-KY), Yea
Portman (R-OH), Nay
Pryor (D-AR), Yea
Reed (D-RI), Yea
Reid (D-NV), Yea
Risch (R-ID), Nay
Roberts (R-KS), Nay
Rockefeller (D-WV), Yea
Rubio (R-FL), Nay
Sanders (I-VT), Yea
Schatz (D-HI), Yea
Schumer (D-NY), Yea
Scott (R-SC), Nay
Sessions (R-AL), Nay
Shaheen (D-NH), Yea
Shelby (R-AL), Yea
Stabenow (D-MI), Yea
Tester (D-MT), Yea
Thune (R-SD), Nay
Toomey (R-PA), Nay
Udall (D-CO), Yea
Udall (D-NM), Yea
Vitter (R-LA), Nay
Warner (D-VA), Yea
Warren (D-MA), Yea
Whitehouse (D-RI), Yea
Wicker (R-MS), Nay
Wyden (D-OR), Yea

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