Senate approves Hagel as US Secretary of Defense

US Senate approves Hagel as next secretary of defense in 58-41 vote after weeks of criticism over Hagel's stance on Israel, Iran.

US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)
US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)
WASHINGTON – Chuck Hagel was sworn in as US secretary of defense on Wednesday, following an acrimonious confirmation battle that saw historic numbers of senators vote against his appointment.
The US Senate voted 58-41 Tuesday to approve Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska, after enough members of the party – who had for weeks blocked his confirmation – agreed to allow him to face a straight majority vote. His approval was all but assured at that point, since more than half of senators are Democrat.
But Hagel comes into office battered by the confirmation process and still at odds with many senators – who took issues with his prior stances on Iran, Israel and terrorism, many of which he has since disavowed – whom he will now have to face on tough issues related to Pentagon spending and priorities.
Hagel acknowledged the challenges he will encounter at home and that America faces abroad, and laid out some of his views during his installation Wednesday at the Pentagon.
“We can’t dictate to the world,” he said. “But we must engage the world. We must lead with our allies.”
He continued, “No nation, as great as America is, can do any of this alone.”
Hagel stressed the importance of American caution in how it handles crises around the world.
“We have great power and how we apply our power is particularly important,” he said. “That engagement in the world should be done wisely. And the resources that we employ on behalf of our country and our allies should always be applied wisely.”
He was addressing US Defense Department employees after his swearing-in ceremony – a staff which is being threatened with furloughs and other cost-cutting measures as massive budget cuts known as sequestration are scheduled to start being implemented on Friday. The cuts could be averted by a last-minute Congressional deal, but that currently seems very unlikely to be reached.
“We need to deal with this reality,” he said plainly of the sequester hurdle on Wednesday.
Following US President Barack Obama’s selection of Hagel, the former senator came under fire from several of his erstwhile party colleagues for controversial views on roiling issues such as Iran, including his previous objections to unilateral sanctions and suggestion that military force not be used.
Though Hagel walked back some of these positions in meetings with senators and during his confirmation hearing last month – as well as apologized for using the term “Jewish lobby” – some Republicans still took to the Senate floor ahead of Tuesday’s vote to restate their objections and ultimately voted against him.
Both the senators and Hagel have begun to speak of working together now to weather the looming fiscal crunch, but it remains to be seen what the lingering affect of his unusually divisive confirmation process will be.
Reuters contributed to this report.