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 AlexanderDeVos vows to be advocate for 'great' public schools Overnight Healthcare: CBO projects 18M could lose coverage after ObamaCare repeal Dems demand second hearing for Trump's Education nominee MORE (Tenn.), Susan CollinsSusan CollinsDeVos vows to be advocate for 'great' public schools GOP senators introducing ObamaCare replacement Monday Five things to watch in round two of Trump confirmation fights MORE (Maine), Bob CorkerBob CorkerSchumer puts GOP on notice over ObamaCare repeal Will Rubio vote for Tillerson? Senators wrestle with whether to back Tillerson MORE (Tenn.) and John ThuneJohn ThuneWhy Trump should abolish the White House faith office Trump’s infrastructure plan: What we know Senate takes first step toward repealing ObamaCare 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 McCainOvernight Cybersecurity: Obama commutes Chelsea Manning's sentence | A malware mystery Overnight Defense: Obama commutes Manning's sentence | Boeing sees 'progress' on Air Force One costs | McCain's 0B defense budget McCain: Leak of Trump dossier ‘totally wrong’ MORE’s (R-Ariz.) presidential nomination. Eight years later, Hagel opted not to endorse McCain over Barack ObamaBarack ObamaPentagon head opposed Manning commutation: reports Trump transition on Africa: Asking the wrong questions Trump puts pressure on GOP Congress 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 SchumerCBO: 18 million could lose coverage after ObamaCare repeal Week ahead: Trump's health pick takes the hot seat Schumer puts GOP on notice over ObamaCare repeal 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.