Former Nebraska Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel finally cleared the procedural hurdle he needed to be confirmed as secretary of defense Tuesday.
This time around, Republicans who had vehemently opposed Hagel voted to end debate on his nomination—a step that allows him to finally have an up or down vote in the Senate floor later today.
Democrats have a 55-45 advantage in the Senate, and Hagel is expected to be confirmed.
There won't be a long honeymoon for Hagel though. Once he takes the post, the new Pentagon chief will have to grapple with how to deal with $46 billion in across-the-board spending cuts scheduled to hit the Department of Defense beginning March 1. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has warned the cuts will mean furloughs for 800,000 civilian employees, as well as massive cuts in training and ship maintenance.
Hagel will also have to mend fences with Republicans who opposed his nomination, GOP members of the Armed Services Committee say.
Hagel's long road to nomination has been scarred with one-time colleagues questioning his support of Israel, his relationship to Iran and his harsh criticism of President George W. Bush's surge strategy in Iraq.
Hagel did little to quell his adversaries' concerns during a lackluster confirmation hearing in which he appeared unprepared and downright surprised by some of the Senate Armed Services Committee's grilling.
"I will do everything in my power to work with him, and I hope he takes different positions as secretary of defense that he has in his prior history in the Senate," says New Hampshire Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte. "He is going to have to work extra hard to work with us on the committee. I am willing to work with him even though I will be opposing his nomination, but I hope we will work together because the defense of our country is very important and it has always been bipartisan."
When reporters asked if Hagel would be a weaker secretary of defense after his bruising confirmation, McCain simply said "I don't know. It depends out how he conducts himself as secretary of defense."
"I think there is no question that this process has been very damaging," adds Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker.
While some Republicans supported Hagel throughout the process—including Nebraska Sen. Mike Johanns, Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran, and Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby—others like South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz prolonged the process by demanding the White House release more information about the terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya, and insisting Hagel turn over more detailed financial records.