The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

February 26, 2013

Senate confirms Hagel for defense secretary

(Continued)

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 during the protracted political fight.

"He will take office with the weakest support of any defense secretary in modern history, which will make him less effective on his job," said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the Senate GOP's No. 2 Republican.

Not so, said Democratic Sen. Jack Reed, who pointed out that Hagel now has the title and the fight is history.

"All have to work together for the interest of the country," said Reed, D-R.I.

The vote ended one of the most bitter fights over a Cabinet choice and former senator since 1989 when the Democratic-led Senate defeated newly elected President George H.W. Bush's nomination of Republican John Tower to be defense secretary.

In the course of the rancorous, seven-week nomination fight, Republicans, led by freshman Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, insinuated that Hagel has a cozy relationship with Iran and received payments for speeches from extreme or radical groups. Those comments drew a rebuke from Democrats and some Republicans.

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, dismissed the "unfair innuendoes" against Hagel and called him an "outstanding American patriot" whose background as an enlisted soldier would send a positive message to the nation's servicemen and women.

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