Senate Confirms Hagel as Next Defense Secretary

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.

The Senate has confirmed former Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., as the successor to Leon Panetta as defense secretary following a contentious battle between Senate Republicans and Democrats over the president's nomination.

Senators voted on Hagel's nomination at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday after a week-long delay referred to as a filibuster. Republicans led by Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., the Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member, led an effort to delay the vote after multiple Republicans sought more information on Hagel's personal finances and past speeches.

A Vietnam veteran, Hagel becomes the 24th U.S. Secretary of Defense and the first former enlisted soldier to serve in combat to head the Pentagon. Hagel earned two Purple Hearts during his time as an infantry squad leader in Vietnam.  Senators from both sides of the aisle described him as a war hero.

The former two-term senator will be sworn in as the defense secretary Wednesday. Pentagon spokesman George Little said Tuesday that Hagel has receiving briefs the past week to prepare him to take over. Hagel takes over the U.S. military just days before it appears the Pentagon will see its budget slashed by $500 billion over the next ten years.

He will also oversee the U.S. military's withdraw from Afghanistan to meet the deadline of 2014 set by President Obama. The U.S. is still debating if it will leave a force presence in Afghanistan for training purposes after 2014.

The Senate voted 58-41 as four Republicans joined the 54 Democrats in the Senate to confirm Hagel's nomination. Few expected Hagel not to be confirmed once it reached a full Senate vote due to the Democrat majority.

However, the battle occurred to end the Republicans attempts to delay the vote. Republicans claimed on Feb. 15 they needed more time to collect information on the former Republican senator who was first voted into the Senate in 1996.

Instead of voting on Hagel's nomination after he was cleared by the Senate Armed Services Committee in a 14-11 vote, the Republicans maintained enough support within their party to beat down a cloture vote that would have ended debate on the nomination.

Panetta had to wait an extra week to return to his walnut farm in California as Congress went home for the President Day holiday recess. A second cloture vote occurred Tuesday morning in which enough Republicans voted to end the filibuster.

Hagel, a Republican, received opposition from his own political party on previous comments he's made encouraging political engagement with Iran, support to lessen America's nuclear stockpile and opposition to the war in Iraq.

During his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Hagel mistakenly said he supports the White House's policy of containment in Iran. He later corrected his mistake saying he misspoke, but Republicans repeatedly brought it up during the floor debate.

Freshman Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, upset members of the Senate Armed Services Committee when he asked for more documentation of Hagel's personal finances suggesting that he could have received inappropriate payments from foreigners or defense companies.

Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, repeatedly informed Cruz and other Republicans during the debate that Hagel had provided the necessary financial disclosures requested of all previous defense secretary nominees.

Hagel, 66, retired from the Senate in 2008. He was elected for terms in 1996 and 2002.

He left the Army in 1968 with the rank of sergeant. Hagel later co-founded Vanguard Cellular in 1984. The money he earned from the cellular carrier allowed him to enter politics on the national stage.

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