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Senate OKs Chuck Hagel as defense secretary

After weeks of partisan acrimony, the Senate Tuesday confirmed Chuck Hagel to become secretary of defense in a time of budget-cutting and evolving threats from terrorism to cyber warfare.

The nomination was approved 58-41 after the Senate acted to cut off the first filibuster against a nominee for defense secretary. The former Republican senator from Nebraska, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, will succeed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

Hagel, 66, will become the Pentagon's leader as across-the-board spending cuts called sequestration are set to take $46 billion from military budgets over seven months and $500 billion over a decade, starting March 1, unless President Barack Obama and Congress agree on an alternative.

Republicans, who have criticized Hagel for his past positions -- from his opposition to the troop surge during the Iraq War to his comments on the influence of what he once called the "Jewish lobby" -- were readying for new fights with Hagel as the steward of the Pentagon's diminishing funds.

"There are those of us who seek to cut waste, fraud, and abuse from the Department of Defense," Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said this month during floor debate. "Senator Hagel seeks something else entirely -- to cut military capabilities that serve as tools to ensure our continued engagement through the world in support of America's interests and those of our allies."

Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) pointed out that Hagel has been endorsed by 13 former secretaries of defense, state, and national security advisers of both parties, he pointed out.

"Men who have had that responsibility trust Chuck Hagel, and so do I," Durbin said.

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