The U.S. Senate confirmed Chuck Hagel as new Secretary of Defense on Tuesday, after an unusually acrimonious confirmation fight that threatened to complicate his work as civilian leader at the Pentagon.
The Senate voted 58-41 to confirm the former Republican Senator, the closest vote ever to approve a Defense Secretary.
Just 4 Republicans - Mike Johanns of Nebraska, who holds Hagel's old Senate seat, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Richard Shelby of Alabama and Rand Paul of Kentucky - joined the Democrats and independents in support of Hagel's nomination.
Barack Obama said: “I am grateful to Chuck for reminding us that when it comes to our national defense, we are not Democrats or Republicans, we are Americans, and our greatest responsibility is the security of the American people,” Obama said.
The Senate had voted earlier on Tuesday to end debate on Hagel and move forward, almost two weeks after Republicans launched a filibuster to block the nomination. It was the first ever used to delay consideration of a defense nominee, prompting Democrats to accuse Republicans of jeopardizing national security.
Republicans have also challenged Obama's choice to be CIA Director, John Brennan, although that nomination appears to be on track, with a vote by the Senate Intelligence Committee expected on Thursday.
Hagel had angered party leaders as a Senator when he criticized former President George W. Bush's handling of the Iraq war.
Many Republicans opposed to Hagel's nomination raised questions about whether he is sufficiently supportive of Israel, tough enough on Iran or truly committed to maintaining a robust nuclear deterrent.
After Hagel's shaky performance during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, opponents questioned whether he was capable of running the vast Pentagon bureaucracy. Some feared he would be too complicit in efforts by Obama to cut Pentagon spending as a way to deal with yawning U.S. budget deficits.
Some defense industry executives worried that Hagel would be hamstrung from the start, saying his difficult confirmation could severely limit his ability to negotiate with Congress.
Hagel was sworn in on Wednesday morning.