Senate confirms Hagel as new Pentagon chief

The United States Senate on Tuesday cleared the appointment of the controversial former Republican senator from Nebraska, Chuck Hagel, as new secretary of defense. Hagel's nomination by President Barack Obama was met with strong opposition from both Democratic and Republican lawmakers, as well as several Jewish groups. They notably criticized Hagel's remarks in 2008 when he said that “the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people” in Washington.

“Chuck Hagel’s statements on Israel and the ‘Jewish lobby’ raised serious concerns about his fitness to serve,” the Republican Jewish Coalition said in a statement reacting to his confirmation on Tuesday. “His views on Iran are also deeply troubling.”

The nomination was approved by 58 senators while 41 voted against him - the highest number ever for a new US defense secretary. Only four Republicans joined the majority Democrats.

The vote came just hours after Republicans agreed to end efforts to delay his confirmation. The 66-year-old Hagel is likely to be sworn in on Wednesday. He will replace Leon Panetta, who served for four years as CIA director and Pentagon chief.

Obama welcomed the "bipartisan confirmation," saying it allowed him to "have a defense secretary our nation needs and the leader our troops deserve."

"I will be counting on Chuck's judgment and counsel as we end the war in Afghanistan, bring our troops home, stay ready to meet the threats of our time and keep our military the finest fighting force in the world," the president said in a statement.

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