Senate confirms Hagel for defense secretaryWASHINGTON -- A deeply divided Senate voted on Tuesday to confirm Republican Chuck Hagel to be the nation's next defense secretary, handing President Barack Obama's pick the top Pentagon job just days before billions of dollars in automatic, across-the-board budget cuts hit the military.
The vote was 58-41, with four Republicans joining the Democrats in backing the contentious choice. Hagel's only GOP support came from former colleagues Thad Cochran of Mississippi and Dick Shelby of Alabama as well as Mike Johanns of Nebraska and Rand Paul of Kentucky.
The vote came just hours after Republicans dropped their delay of the nomination and allowed it to move forward on a 71-27 vote.
During a Tuesday afternoon conference call, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said he voted against a filibuster to prevent Hagel from becoming Secretary of Defense. Manchin then voted to approve his appointment.
Manchin mentioned President Dwight D. Eisenhower's warning to "beware of the military-industrial complex. We have to be. We have more private military contractors than ever, working at higher costs and spending more. ... But we also have to maintain a strong military to fight the war on terror."
Hagel, 66, a former two-term Nebraska senator and twice-wounded Vietnam combat veteran, succeeds Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. Hagel is expected to be sworn in at the Pentagon on Wednesday.
Republicans had opposed their onetime colleague, casting him as unqualified for the job, hostile toward Israel and soft on Iran.
Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona said several GOP lawmakers had "a lot of ill will" toward the moderate Republican for his criticism of President George W. Bush over the Iraq war and his backing for Democratic candidates. McCain voted against his onetime friend and fellow Vietnam veteran.
Obama portrayed the war-tested Hagel as a man who understands that conflict is not an abstraction and called him the "leader that our troops deserve."
Hagel joins Obama's retooled second-term, national security team of Secretary of State John Kerry and CIA Director-designate John Brennan at a time of uncertainty for a military emerging from two wars and fighting worldwide terrorism with smaller, deficit-driven budgets.
Among his daunting challenges are deciding on troop levels in Afghanistan as the United States winds down its combat presence and dealing with $46 billion in budget cuts set to kick in on Friday. He also will have to work with lawmakers who spent weeks vilifying him.
Republicans insisted that Hagel was battered and bloodied after their repeated attacks.