Chuck Hagel was sworn in Wednesday as the defense secretary after overcoming strong opposition from hawkish Republicans due to past statements about U.S. relations with Israel and Iran. The Administration of Barack Obama eulogized the “bipartisan” confirmation, though only four GOP Senators supported Hagel in a 58-41 Senate vote Tuesday.
From a White House statement:
With the bipartisan confirmation of Chuck Hagel as our next Secretary of Defense, we will have the defense secretary our nation needs and the leader our troops deserve. From the moment he volunteered for military service in Vietnam, Chuck has devoted his life to keeping America secure and our armed forces strong. An American patriot who fought and bled for our country, he understands our sacred obligations to our service members, military families and veterans.
Though Hagel endured a contentious confirmation process, his biggest tasks are before him: $46 billion in automatic Pentagon reductions are slated to go into effect Friday, the troop drawdown in Afghanistan continues and the possibility of conflict with Iran looms.
Hagel said he was prepared to meet the challenges in an address to Pentagon employees Wednesday.
“As difficult as our jobs are with the budget and sequestration — I don’t need to dwell on all the good news there — that’s a reality. We need to figure this out. You are doing that. You have been doing that. We need to deal with this reality,” he said. “We’ve got ahead of us a lot of challenges. They are going to define much of who we are, not this institution only, but our country, what kind of a world our children are going to inherit. I mean, that’s the big challenge that we have. That’s the bigger picture of the objective for all of us. Yes, it’s difficult.”
Senator Rand Paul, who has been an outspoken critic of the Hagel nomination, surprised some conservatives with his “aye” vote on Tuesday but had already offered an explanation of why he was among the few GOP members to ultimately support the confirmation.
“I voted for John Kerry and I agree with nothing he represents,” he told a group at the New York Meeting, a monthly conservative gathering, “but I voted for him because I thought there was a level of at least basic human decency and honesty that exists there … and that the president has the prerogative to determine political appointees.”
He continued: “I would never vote for him in an election so I saw it a little bit differently. I see Hagel and Brennan and [Treasury nominee Jack] Lew kind of the same way. I don’t agree with much of their policies with any of them … They’re going to be Obama appointees … On Hagel, there’s criticisms both on the conservative right, and there’s also criticism on the libertarian right.”