Hagel makes it

Chuck HagelChuck HagelLobbying World The US just attacked Syria. So where's Congress? Senators tear into Marines on nude photo scandal 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.

ADVERTISEMENT
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 AlexanderLawmakers reintroduce online sales tax bills Overnight Healthcare: New GOP health bill on life support | ObamaCare insurer threatens to leave over subsidies Trump's FDA nominee clears key Senate committee MORE (Tenn.), Susan CollinsSusan CollinsThe Hill's 12:30 Report Overnight Energy: Lawmakers work toward deal on miners’ benefits Schumer: Senate Russia probe moving too slowly MORE (Maine), Bob CorkerBob CorkerState spokesman: Why nominate people for jobs that may be eliminated? The Hill's 12:30 Report Senate Foreign Relations chair: Erdogan referendum win 'not something to applaud' MORE (Tenn.) and John ThuneJohn ThuneWant to grow the economy? Make student loan repayment assistance tax-free. Net neutrality fight descends into trench warfare Hopes fade for using tax reform on infrastructure 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 McCainEx-Bush aide Nicolle Wallace to host MSNBC show Meghan McCain: Obama 'a dirty capitalist like the rest of us' Top commander: Don't bet on China reining in North Korea MORE’s (R-Ariz.) presidential nomination. Eight years later, Hagel opted not to endorse McCain over Barack ObamaBarack ObamaTrump team did background check on Flynn, knew of Turkey ties: report Trump: 'I couldn't care less about golf' Top Obama official to replace Chris Dodd as MPAA head 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 SchumerReagan's 'voodoo economics' are precisely what America needs When political opportunity knocked, Jason Chaffetz never failed to cash in Yes, blame Obama for the sorry state of the Democratic Party 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.