Chuck HagelChuck HagelWho will temper Trump after he takes office? Hagel: I’m ‘encouraged’ by Trump’s Russia outreach Want to 'drain the swamp'? Implement regular order 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 AlexanderAngus King says he will oppose Betsy DeVos for Education secretary Gillibrand to oppose DeVos for Education secretary Sanders set for clash with Trump’s budget pick MORE (Tenn.), Susan CollinsSusan CollinsOvernight Healthcare: Trump reinstates ban on US funds for overseas abortions GOP senators: Give states the option of keeping ObamaCare GOP senators to introduce ObamaCare replacement plan MORE (Maine), Bob CorkerBob CorkerSenate panel votes to confirm Tillerson Rubio to vote for Tillerson Top Dem comes out against Tillerson ahead of key vote MORE (Tenn.) and John ThuneJohn ThuneOvernight Finance: Trump budget pick on the hot seat | Dems' T infrastructure plan | Deficit to hit 1B in 2019 | Trump meets automakers | Pipelines back on GOP pans Democrats’ T infrastructure package Overnight Tech: New FCC chair's busy first day | Dems vow to fight for net neutrality | Zuckerberg has 'no plans' to run for president 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 McCainMulvaney vows to give Trump straight talk on entitlements Overnight Defense: McCain grills Trump's budget pick | Dems seek to limit Trump on nukes | Senators weigh new round of base closures Overnight Finance: Trump budget pick on the hot seat | Dems' T infrastructure plan | Deficit to hit 1B in 2019 | Trump meets automakers | Pipelines back on MORE’s (R-Ariz.) presidential nomination. Eight years later, Hagel opted not to endorse McCain over Barack ObamaBarack ObamaTrump clamps down on federal agencies Overnight Defense: McCain grills Trump's budget pick | Dems seek to limit Trump on nukes | Senators weigh new round of base closures Trump invites Indian PM to White House 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 SchumerLive coverage: Trump budget chief faces two Senate panels McConnell to Dems: Work with us on GOP's 'formidable' challenges Democrats and the boycott of Trump's inauguration 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.