Chuck Hagel’s confirmation battle is finally over.
Congress voted on Tuesday to make the former Republican senator from Nebraska the next secretary of defense, despite weeks of political stonewalling and concerns over his commitment to Israel, his toughness on Iran and his views on Middle East security.
Earlier in the day, the Senate passed a motion 72-27 to end a GOP-led filibuster–the first one ever for a defense secretary nominee. Later, Hagel was confirmed by a 58-41 vote, with four GOP senators voting in favor of Hagel. That included Rand Paul of Kentucky, Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, Thad Cochran of Mississippi and Mike Johanns of Nebraska.
Everyone who voted against Hagel was a Republican.
Hagel, who will replace Leon Panetta, is expected to be sworn in as early as Wednesday. Hagel will take charge just days before across-the-board spending cuts will kick in unless Congress can make a deal. Just last week, the Pentagon said it would furlough the bulk of its 800,000 civilian workforce to help close a $46 billion shortfall that’s expected as a result of the sequester.
“I think, unfortunately, this very, very nasty campaign against Hagel, and let’s be honest, Hagel’s not-very stellar performance in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is going to make it harder for him to have the political leverage that he’s going to need to make the tough decisions on cutting the defense budget,” the Daily Beast’s Peter Beinart said on Hardball. “He’s going to have to rebuild some of the political clout that I’m afraid he lost.”
Steve Clemons of The Atlantic was more optimistic. Hagel is “going to come out with a very, very good and confident-looking strategy for the military and its priorities and how to responsibly handle what are likely to be very sizable cuts.” Clemons added that GOP lawmakers’ grudges against Hagel may “cost their constituents” in the future.
Indeed a slew of Republicans voted Tuesday to continue the filibuster against the president’s nominee, even thought it was clear there would be a confirmation vote. That includes Ted Cruz of Texas, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Marco Rubio of Florida, David Vitter of Louisiana, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and more.
Hardball host Chris Matthews called it a “grandstanding, hula-hooping bonanza of b.s. the Republicans have thrown at Chuck Hagel.”
Beinart said the continued resistance was a way for GOPers to “fight the last election.” He added, “it’s hard to understand what the Republicans feel they are gaining when the continually pick these fights they know they’re not going to win.”