Former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel was confirmed by the Senate Tuesday to be the next Secretary of Defense with a 58-41 vote.
Hagel will immediately have to face a budget crisis at the Pentagon, as the Department of Defense announced plans to furlough most of its 800,000 civilian employees to fill a $46 billion shortfall caused by automatic spending cuts that are slated to begin March 1, USA Today reports.
Hagel, a Republican, had previously run into opposition from his own party largely because he was a critic of the war with Iraq when he served in the Senate and has differed with the party on some other foreign policy matters.
LGBT advocates, meanwhile, were concerned about Hagel because of antigay remarks he made several years ago. Most infamously, in 1998 he said gay philanthropist James Hormel, nominated by President Clinton for an ambassadorship, might be too “aggressively gay” to be effective. The Log Cabin Republicans criticized Hagel in a full-page ad that ran in the New York Times for making those remarks. Once Hagel was nominated for this most recent post, he publicly issued an apology for past statements, and Hormel accepted the apology.
During his Senate confirmation hearings, Hagel said he would "move forward expeditiously" to extend partner benefits to gay and lesbian service members.
"I will faithfully, dilligently enforce our laws," Hagel said in January. "All men and women deserve the same rights, and I can assure you that that will be a high priority, to enforce that and ensure that in every way, through the entire chain of command and accountability."
Log Cabin Republicans Executive Director Gregory T. Angelo said Tuesday shortly after the confirmation that Hagel wasn't the organization's first choice for the post, but it was time to look forward toward the future of the Defense Department.
"It is up to Secretary Hagel to turn his recent words into actions," he said. "We will be watching to make sure his change of heart is sincere and look forward to working with him on the completion of the implementation of Don't Ask, Don't Tell repeal. There are still many issues facing gay members of the armed services, and we hope to have Secretary Hagel's steadfast support in addressing the inequalities that exist in our military, including equal housing and formal protection against harassment and discrimination