Hagel makes it

Chuck HagelChuck HagelCreating a future for vets in DC Republicans back Clinton, but will she put them in Pentagon? There's still time for another third-party option 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.

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Republicans pounced, and threatened to delay his nomination via filibuster. The White House and congressional Democrats mistakenly thought they would get the votes to move Hagel forward before the Presidents Day recess.

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 AlexanderOvernight Regulation: Lawsuits pile up against Obama overtime rule The American people are restive, discouraged and sometimes suicidal GOP chairman eyes lame-duck for passing medical cures bill MORE (Tenn.), Susan CollinsSusan CollinsSwing-state Republicans play up efforts for gun control laws Reid knocks GOP on gun 'terror loophole' after attacks GOP pressures Kerry on Russia's use of Iranian airbase MORE (Maine), Bob CorkerBob CorkerSenate poised to override Obama veto US general calls out Pakistan on support for Afghan militants This week: Shutdown deadline looms over Congress MORE (Tenn.) and John ThuneJohn ThuneReid blocks Thune tech bill over FCC nomination fight Overnight Tech: Tech pushes for debate spotlight | Disney may bid for Twitter | Dem seeks Yahoo probe Google backs Obama's internet transition plan 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 McCainGreen Beret awarded for heroism during 'pandemonium' of Boston bombing House passes bill exempting some from ObamaCare mandate NBC's Lester Holt emerges from debate bruised and partisan MORE’s (R-Ariz.) presidential nomination. Eight years later, Hagel opted not to endorse McCain over Barack ObamaBarack ObamaDonald Trump, the Russian candidate Latinos matter: Donald Trump and Hillary missed huge in first debate? Trump camp tries to clarify climate position 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 SchumerOvernight Tech: Tech pushes for debate spotlight | Disney may bid for Twitter | Dem seeks Yahoo probe Saudis hire lobbyists amid 9/11 fight Consumer bureau remains partisan target after Wells Fargo settlement 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.