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Chuck Hagel confirmed as defense secretary

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After weeks of delay, the U.S. Senate today confirmed Chuck Hagel as the next secretary of defense, voting 58-41. 

The vote comes nearly two months after President Barack Obama nominated Hagel to succeed Leon Penetta as Pentagon head. Although Hagel’s nomination initially faced criticism from LGBT advocates for statements and votes made by the Nebraska Republican when he served in the Senate, a public apology and promise to support the further implementation of the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” helped those concerns to subside.

“I will be counting on Chuck’s judgment and counsel as we end the war in Afghanistan, bring our troops home, stay ready to meet the threats of our time and keep our military the finest fighting force in the world,” said Obama in a statement. “Most of all, I am grateful to Chuck for reminding us that when it comes to our national defense, we are not Democrats or Republicans, we are Americans, and our greatest responsibility is the security of the American people.”

In recent weeks, Hagel has faced criticism from Republicans for his stances on Iran and Israel. Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) described Hagel as unfit to lead the Pentagon during his confirmation hearing before the Armed Service Committee. Both men voted against Hagel’s confirmation today.

Hagel’s nomination was filibustered by Republican senators earlier this month as well, which was overcome earlier today when the Senate voted 71-27 to move forward with his nomination vote.

Among the senators voting in favor of Hagel today was the chamber’s first out gay member, Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.). Although Baldwin had said she had questions about Hagel’s positions on a number of issues since he left the Senate in 2009, those questions were answered. 

“In our meeting, Senator Hagel showed refreshing sincerity and candor. In addition, he presented a quality that is not seen enough of in Washington and will serve our country well in the role of Secretary of Defense, the humility to admit mistakes and learn from them,” Baldwin said in statement earlier this month.

Following today’s vote, the nation’s largest organization for LGBT servicemembers praised Hagel’s confirmation as a win for gay and straight members of the military. 

“We congratulate Senator Hagel for enduring an incredibly arduous confirmation process to become our next Secretary of Defense – this is a win for all service members, and for LGBT service members and their families especially,” said Allyson Robinson, executive director of OutServe-SLDN, in a statement. “We thank the Senator for his commitment to equal treatment and equal opportunity, and we urge him to take swift action to include our service members in non-discrimination and anti-harassment protections.”

Although concerns over Hagel’s LGBT record have largely subsided in recent weeks, Log Cabin Republicans, which ran ads against Hagel’s nomination, remained wary.

“Despite a history of hurtful comments against the LGBT community and a dismal record on our issues, we must look to the future now that Chuck Hagel has been confirmed as Secretary of Defense with the hope that his repudiation of past statements and declared commitment to supporting open service for all is genuine,” said LCR Executive Director Gregory Angelo. “It is up to Secretary Hagel to turn his recent words into actions.”

[Image: Chuck Hagel during his Senate confirmation hearing last month (Screenshot courtesy of C-SPAN).]

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Justin Snow is Metro Weekly's former political editor and White House correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @JustinCSnow.

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