After a bitterly contested and debated hearing process, Missouri's U.S. senators are on opposite sides of the divide over the newly appointed Secretary of Defense.
Former Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., was confirmed Tuesday as the nation's newest Secretary of Defense, replacing outgoing Pentagon head Leon Panetta. President Obama's nominee was approved with a 58 to 41 vote in the Senate, meeting the simple majority needed for confirmation. This was the closest confirmation vote for the position since its creation in 1947, according to Senate records.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., voted in favor of Hagel's appointment both in the Senate Armed Services Committee and the general Senate vote. Her Republican counterpart, Sen. Roy Blunt, voted in opposition both times.
Hagel's confirmation ends a highly contentious process that featured a Senate filibuster after the Senate Armed Forces Committee held hearings and approved the nomination. On Feb. 14, Senate Republicans blocked the nomination process with a 58-40 vote, two shy of the 60 required on the first vote for a full Senate confirmation.
Blunt initially said he would not support a filibuster but nonetheless voted against Hagel's confirmation Feb. 14.
"I want to give the president the benefit of the doubt in who he can bring to the cabinet with him and who can join him in the cabinet," Blunt said. "But in this job at this time, things like Sen. Hagel's comments on containment, I think he really does believe, based on his statements (on Jan. 31), even though he backed away from them later, that we can contain an nuclear Iran. I don't think we can contain a nuclear Iran. I think it's too dangerous for us to try that."
Hagel drew considerable criticism from multiple sources following the 7 1/2-hour long hearing in front of the Armed Services Committee on Jan. 31.
"I am fully committed to the president’s goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and — as I’ve said in the past — all options must be on the table to achieve that goal," Hagel said in his opening remarks. "My policy is one of prevention and not one of containment — and the president has made clear that is the policy of our government."
At one point during the hearing, Hagel slipped and said he did in fact support "containment" of Iran, but was quickly handed a note and corrected himself, saying he supported the administration's policy against containment and in favor of prevention of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons.
McCaskill voiced her support for Hagel after his confirmation.
"Chuck Hagel is a man of great personal integrity with a lifelong commitment to our national defense, and I'm pleased that the Senate has confirmed him for the position of Secretary of Defense," McCaskill said in a news release.
However, McCaskill questioned the difficulty and bipartisanship of the filibuster and confirmation hearings.
"But we should ask ourselves how the traditionally tough, but fair, confirmation process devolved to the point where a war hero and former colleague was accused of having secret ties with our enemies," she said in the release. "I sincerely hope that the practice of challenging nominations with innuendo and inference, rather than facts and figures, was an aberration and not a roadmap."