On February 1, former Massachusetts Senator and Presidential candidate John Kerry was sworn in as the nation’s 68th Secretary of State. He was approved by the United States Senate with a 94-3 vote. Kerry replaced Hillary Clinton, who served under President Barack Obama throughout his first presidential term.
Following Kerry’s approval and swearing in, the Senate’s shifted its focus to Obama’s Secretary of Defense nomination. Obama nominated former Nebraska Senator, Chuck Hagel to succeed Leon Panetta.
Hagel, a Republican, has kept close ties with the Obama administration since 2008, when he was rumored to be on Obama’s short list of running-mates. In 2009, he stepped down from his seat in the Senate. He is currently a professor at Georgetown University, serves as co-chairman of Obama’s Intelligence Advisory Board, and is a member of the Department of Defense’s Defense Policy Board Advisory Committee.
The Senatorial hearings concerning Hagel’s nomination began on January 31, and have been a topic of much controversy since then. He has been under fire from many Republican Senators for his positions on sanctions against Iran and negotiation between Hamas and Palestine. Some of his views have been criticized as directly in conflict with those of both the United States and its allies.
Hagel’s views on United States relations with Israel have additionally been in question throughout the hearings. He has previously been accused of anti-semitism and has been called a weak supporter of Israel. Despite such criticism, a number of United States ambassadors to Israel have recently written letters of support for Hagel’s nomination.
Both the Obama administration and Hagel have maintained that as Secretary of Defense, Hagel would prefer to use militant force as a last resort only. This, among Hagel’s other various views, have been challenged with politically charged questions throughout the duration of the hearing.
“They talked a lot about past quotes, but what about what a secretary of defense is confronting today?” Panetta said in an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press. “What about the war in Afghanistan? What about the war on terrorism? What about the budget sequestering, what, what impact it’s going to have on readiness? …All of the issues that confront a secretary of defense, frankly, those were — we just did not see enough time spent on discussing those issues.”
While Hagel has been criticized as cracking under the pressure of the hearings, Obama stated that he was confident that Hagel would be confirmed by the Senate.