By The Hill Editors - 02/27/13 12:33 AM EST
Chuck HagelChuck HagelHagel says NATO deployment could spark a new Cold War with Russia Overnight Defense: House panel unveils 5B defense spending bill Hagel to next president: We need to sit down with Putin MORE’s nomination to become secretary of Defense was anything but smooth.
The former Nebraska GOP senator’s performance before the Senate Armed Services Committee was weak, to put it mildly. His answers to a number of issues, notably on Iran sanctions, were meandering and unimpressive.
Democrats cried foul, noting this was the first time a Defense secretary had ever been filibustered. GOP lawmakers denied they were filibustering, even though they were.
Still, it was a show of surprising unity for Senate Republicans after a disappointing election opened many rifts in the party.
On Tuesday, as expected, Hagel overcame a second cloture vote and was confirmed by the upper chamber. Eighteen Republicans voted to end the filibuster. Most of them had toed the party line on the prior vote. This group included Sens. Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderSenate backs equal pay for female soccer players Overnight Healthcare: Momentum on mental health? | Zika bills head to conference | Only 10 ObamaCare co-ops left Overnight Regulation: GOP slams new Obama education rules MORE (Tenn.), Susan CollinsSusan CollinsGOP lawmaker: 'Republicans were wrong’ to block Garland Senate passes broad spending bill with .1B in Zika funds Senators unveil bill to overhaul apprenticeship programs MORE (Maine), Bob CorkerBob CorkerRubio: 'Maybe' would run for Senate seat if 'good friend' wasn't McConnell-allied group: We'll back Rubio if he runs for reelection The Trail 2016: Interleague play MORE (Tenn.) and John ThuneJohn ThuneHow airport security lines got so bad Self-driving cars: The next great leap in automotive safety Overnight Tech: Senate panel poised to advance email privacy bill MORE (S.D.), among others.
Hagel was subsequently confirmed in a 58-41 vote.
In 2000, Hagel served as co-chairman of Sen. John McCainJohn McCainTrump should apologize to heroic POWs McCain urges sports leagues to return 'paid patriotism' money Senators to Obama: Make 'timely' call on Afghan troops levels MORE’s (R-Ariz.) presidential nomination. Eight years later, Hagel opted not to endorse McCain over Barack ObamaBarack ObamaObama: 'Stop to reflect' on Memorial Day John Bolton slams Obama’s ‘shameful apology tour’ Miss. governor to join lawsuit against Obama transgender policy MORE. Presumably one of the leading reasons was the Iraq war — Hagel initially supported the war but later criticized U.S. involvement there.
Some people maintain that Hagel will be a weakened Defense secretary because of the controversial nomination process. That might be accurate in the short term, but in the long run, if he is a weak leader, it will not be because his confirmation was turbulent.
The amount of power a Cabinet official wields depends on the president’s belief in him and his leadership skills while heading an executive branch department.
It is worth noting that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was confirmed with only 60 votes in 2009, as both the right and left attacked him amid controversy over his tax returns. It didn’t affect his leadership of the Treasury Department.
Like Geithner, Hagel clearly has President Obama’s confidence. He was something of a mentor to the president when the two men served in the Senate together.
Hagel’s nomination was basically assured when Sen. Charles SchumerCharles SchumerSanders tests Wasserman Schultz Puerto Rico debt relief faces serious challenges in Senate Overnight Healthcare: House, Senate on collision course over Zika funding MORE (D-N.Y.) endorsed him last month. The New Yorker had expressed concern about the nominee’s views on Israel. But with Schumer’s backing, Democrats became unanimous in their support for Obama’s pick.
The new Defense chief now faces more daunting challenges than a Senate confirmation: in North Korea, Iran, Afghanistan and the wider Middle East.