Chuck Hagel took over as United States defense secretary last Tuesday, Feb. 26 after a lengthy hearing in the Senate.
Senate Republicans shut down Hagel’s nomination in early February due to requests for information regarding the position of the U.S. in the Middle East and nuclear weapons.
Hagel is a former Republican senator for Nebraska and a Vietnam War veteran with years of experience in the military.
Prior to confirmation, 15 GOP senators wrote a letter to the president requesting Hagel’s nomination be revoked. Sen. John McCain (R., A.Z.), a leading figure for the Republican Party for military issues, did not sign the letter, but claimed he does not think Hagel is qualified to fill the position.
David Lowry, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Oklahoma Christian University, said he was surprised McCain was not chosen as nominee, if Obama was going to choose a Republican.
Despite controversy during the process, Hagel’s nomination was confirmed 58 to 41. This marks the slimmest margin between votes in U.S. history for the position.
“Only four Republicans voted for his confirmation as secretary of defense,” senior Sofie Carter said. “That’s such a close call. Right now with the administration being Democratic… I think he’s going to have struggles… He’s going to have to get in there and prove himself.”
The Wall Street Journal wrote that this record division of the political parties could leave Hagel in a difficult position.
“Traditionally it’s been a strong measure to have your secretary of defense have overwhelming bipartisan support, and he does not have that,” Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R., N.H.) said in the Wall Street Journal article.
While Hagel is a registered Republican, he supported numerous Democratic-leaning policies in his later years, supporting Obama in the 2012 election.
Lowry said there are several reasons Hagel did not receive support from the Republicans in the senate.
“Chuck Hagel has not been a loyal Republican,” Lowry said. “He speaks his mind, he breaks party lines with the Republicans and he doesn’t always respect the hierarchy of the Republican Party.”
Lowry said that although the Republicans have had a difficult time accepting Hagel’s nomination, he expected them to be more supportive of a Republican claiming the position.
“I figured… Republicans would respect the fact that the president reached across the aisle to find somebody that was both suitable to the president – who is a Democrat – and to the Republicans,” Lowry said. “I thought that with their constant reminding the president that he never tries to compromise and never tries to cooperate with anyone outside of his party it would be a good opportunity to reward the president instead of punish the president for holding up the nomination and filibustering the first secretary of defense nomination ever.”
Sophomore Afton Paris said Obama’s intention when selecting a Republican to fill the positions might have been to unite the parties, but it has yet to do so.
“[The nomination was] a good gesture from the Democratic side of Washington and the Obama administration, stepping out and picking a Republican to be in one of the major cabinet positions,” Paris said. “But I don’t think that the Republicans are willing to accept that at this point. They’re so divided over fiscal issues and monetary policy that they’re not willing to accept that as an olive branch.”
While the nomination process might not have gone as smoothly as planned, Hagel’s performance in the position is yet to be determined.
“I’m glad that we are looking in the direction of someone who has had experience in war to run the Pentagon,” Carter said. “[Hagel has] been very inconsistent on his choices and where he stands on certain policies… only time is going to answer the question of where his true intentions lie… It will be something to watch over the next few years and see what choices he makes.”