Senate confirms Hagel as defense chief

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The U.S. Senate confirmed Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense largely along party lines.

In the 58-41 vote Tuesday to confirm, 54 senators in the Democratic caucus joined four Republicans in backing Hagel.

The Democratic-led Senate had sought to confirm President Obama’s nominee earlier this month, and the Armed Services Committee approved him in a 14-11 vote on Feb. 12. But Republicans used Senate rules to prevent a full vote, seeking further review of allegations that Hagel had made remarks critical of Israel and derogatory of Jews during and after his career as a Republican senator from Nebraska.

In recent days, however, some of Hagel’s toughest critics said they would allow a full vote, and earlier on Tuesday the Senate voted 71-27 to end debate — 11 more than the necessary 60 votes.

Among the Republicans voting to push the nomination were a trio of Hagel’s toughest pro-Israel critics, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). All three voted against his actual confirmation, which needed only a simple majority to pass.

A number of centrist Jewish groups, including the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee, had expressed concerns about past Hagel comments, particularly his claim in 2006 that a "Jewish lobby intimidates" Congress, as well as his skepticism of sanctions and military moves that would keep Iran from advancing its suspected nuclear weapons program.

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