After Long Delay, Hagel to Take Top Defense Position
Published: Friday, March 1, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, March 5, 2013 14:03
The U.S. Senate voted to confirm Georgetown professor and former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) as the next Secretary of Defense on Tuesday after an embittered nomination process.
President Barack Obama nominated Hagel Jan. 7, but his nomination stalled temporarily as Hagel faced scrutiny for comments he had made both during and after his tenure as senator.
Republicans filibustered Hagel, marking a historic first in a Secretary of Defense nomination, and forced at least 60 senators to vote in favor of proceeding with the confirmation debates. The Feb. 14 vote failed, but Hagel garnered the votes necessary to break the filibuster and then win confirmation Tuesday.
Government Professor Stephen Wayne noted that historically, the Senate has deferred to the executive branch when it comes to secretary-level nominees.
“One of the effects of this partisan political polarization has been to really slow down the appointment process in the Senate and to subject it to the filibuster process in the Senate,” Wayne said. “This meant that you needed 60 people to stop the Republicans from talking to vote on the nomination.”
Hagel served two terms as senator before joining the School of Foreign Service as a distinguished professor of national governance in 2009.
“It may be that while he was in the Senate, there was some personal interchange that people didn’t like and didn’t want him there,” Wayne said. “And maybe they thought that that kind of nature was not the nature of a person that we need as Defense Department Secretary.”
Government Professor Andrew Bennett said that Hagel and Congress will have to move past the protracted confirmation battle and work together in the areas where the president lacks authority.
“I don’t think he’s going to hold any personal rancor against the senators who voted against him — they’re going to need him and he’s going to need them,” Bennett said.
Confirmation is just the first of many stumbling blocks Hagel will face as he takes office. One of Hagel’s first challenges will be the sequestration, which is expected to slash around $42 billion from the military’s budget, representing half of the total cuts.
“I think [Hagel’s] biggest challenge will be the downsizing of the defense budget, the downsizing of the number of military personnel and eventually civilian personnel,” Wayne said. “The budget, which has been expanding for years, is going to be contracting in the future and yet the interests of our country have not contracted. ... The world is still very volatile, and America’s presence needs to be out there.”
Hagel’s other major challenge will come from managing the largest department of the executive branch. The former senator has never had managerial experience, a quality that has produced mixed results for past defense secretaries.
“Sometimes that didn’t work out so well, like when Les Aspin came from the Congress and was famously loose in his managerial style,” Bennett said of secretaries with no past experience managing large organizations. “I don’t think that’s going be so much of an issue for Hagel, considering his style is different already.”
Hagel is known for being fiercely independent, a quality that may prove crucial to his success.
“One of the hardest things to do to a president is to tell him what he doesn’t want to hear,” Wayne said. “If Chuck Hagel, behind closed doors, can do that to the president, he’ll be making a contribution to Obama’s presidency.”