Photo by George Lauby
Hagel in North Platte, 2008
North Platte house where Hagel's parents lived after WWII.
Chuck Hagel, who was born in a little house on the edge of Norh Platte after World War II, was confirmed Tuesday as U.S. Secretary of Defense Tuesday by a 58-41 vote in the U.S. Senate.
The vote ended two weeks of intense disagreement over Hagel, including a combative hearing in front of the Senate Armed Services committee.
Several strong opponents, including Sen. John McCain, said they thought there were better choices, but decided not to mount another filibuster.
Earlier Tuesday, the Senate voted 71-27 against the filibuster, advancing Hagel's nomination to an up or down vote.
Sen. Mike Johanns voted yes on Hagel's confirmation. Sen. Deb Fischer voted no.
Hagel will face many challenges, including sizeable defense department budget cuts if the sequester goes into effect at the end of the week. The sequester will begin on Friday if Congress doesn't come up with a compromise plan in the final hours.
The Pentagon earlier announced plans to furlough most of its 800,000 civilian employees to help meet a $46 billion shortfall.
The annual Defense budget is $615 billion.
Hagel, 66, was born in North Platte and grew up in towns in western and northern Nebraska where his father worked at lumber yards.
In 1968, Hagel and brother Tom went to Vietnam and were both wounded in combat. Chuck was awarded two Purple Heart medals.
After the war, Hagel ventured into public service in Washington, D.C. and helped launch a cell phone company. He returned to Nebraska in 1996 to run for the Senate, upsetting then-Gov. Ben Nelson for the seat.
Hagel was a senator for two terms, from 1997-2009.
In 2007, he became an outspoken critic of the war in Iraq, distancing himself from most Republican colleagues in the Senate, including McCain.
His confirmation was applauded Tuesday by VoteVets.org, a group that describes itself as progressive.
The Vote Vets group said they collected more than 8,000 petition signatures from veterans backing Hagel’s nomination and sent more than 18,000 emails to senators, covering all 50 states and all 100 senators.
VoteVets.org Chairman Jon Stoltz said Hagel "brings with him the experience of being a grunt on the ground in Vietnam."
"In short, very few understand the sacrifices troops make in war as much as Chuck Hagel," Stoltz said. "That experience, as well as his years of experience advocating for troops and veterans in the Senate, will make him an exemplary Secretary of Defense."
In all, four Republicans voted with Senate Democrats to confirm Hagel -- Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Johanns and Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama.