Senate confirms Chuck Hagel as defense secretary

The Senate on Tuesday voted to confirm former Nebraska Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense, overcoming a fierce campaign by some GOP lawmakers to block President Barack Obama's nominee.

Hagel's nomination, which required support from just a majority of the chamber, passed 58-41.

Four Republicans voted to approve Hagel's nomination: Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Sen. Mike Johanns of Nebraska and Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama.

In a statement, Obama praised the Senate for passing the confirmation.

"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," Obama's statement read. "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."

Tuesday's vote ended a tumultuous confirmation process that began the moment Obama announced Hagel as his choice to replace outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

Despite Hagel's tenure in the Senate, many of his former colleagues refused to endorse him for the defense post, pointing to his past comments about the U.S. relationship to Israel and Iran's nuclear program. Even some Democrats showed hesitancy about confirming Hagel at first. It was not until he made a series of personal visits to key members of the party that he was able to secure their support.

During Hagel's confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, he faced a grilling from senators on the panel who pressed him on a wide rang of topics. Hagel's performance was disappointing, but the White House stood by its choice.

The first attempt in the Senate to end debate fell short in the face of an unprecedented GOP filibuster two weeks ago, with Democrats just one vote shy of the 60 needed to proceed to confirm Hagel. (The tally showed 58 votes in favor, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid changed his vote to “no” as it was needed to secure the right under parliamentary rules to bring up Tuesday’s vote.)

Last week 15 Republicans sent a letter to Obama urging him to withdraw Hagel's nomination, citing his record and comments he made in the past about Iran's nuclear weapons program. The White House dismissed the request.

Now that he has been confirmed, it remains unclear clear how the sustained battering will affect Hagel's tenure at the Pentagon. But the rough handling he got from his fellow Republicans and former colleagues shows one thing for sure: The former lawmaker cannot count on getting the benefit of the doubt from Congress as he moves to deal with spending cuts that start coming into force on Friday, or takes on challenges overseas like the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

In an effort to dispel any lingering concerns over Israel, Michael Oren, Israel's Ambassador to the United States, released a statement of confidence in the new nominee. "Israel looks forward to working closely with Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. Under the Obama Administration, security ties between the United States and Israel have been superb," Orien wrote in a message on his Facebook page. "We are fully confident that those bonds will grow stronger still as our countries continue to meet common challenges to our security."