As Chuck Hagel proceeded toward confirmation Tuesday, several Republican senators said that he will have a lot of work ahead of him to prove himself and repair his relationships in the Senate after the Pentagon nominee's long and bruising confirmation battle.
The Senate voted 71-27 Tuesday to end the long debate over the nomination, and Hagel is expected to be confirmed by a smaller number of votes than that Teusday afternoon. He will begin his tenure as defense secretary with significantly less Senate support than his two predecessors, Bob Gates and Leon Panetta, and after several GOP senators attacked his stance on a variety of issues, his competence, and his willingness to be transparent with Congress.
Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) said Tuesday that after Hagel is confirmed, senators on both sides of the aisle will figure out a way to work with him for the benefit of the country and that Hagel won't punish GOP senators for putting up roadblocks during his confirmation process.
"He's a professional. We're professionals. We've all served together; we've all been through the rough and tumble of politics. Frankly, we're friends. Even those who voted against him would count themselves as friends," Levin said. "Everybody here who has worked with Senator Hagel realizes that he's not the kind of person who carries grudges ... I don't see any negative effect on his capability to run the Defense Department."
Several GOP senators who were directly involved in the Hagel fight told a different story. They all said they were willing to work with Hagel but that it was Hagel's responsibility, not the Senate's, to mend fences and prove that he can do the job.
"I think he will be entering weak based on his performance. He has to up his game," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a leader of the anti-Hagel campaign. "That's his challenge: to prove to Congress that he's capable of doing his job. I hope he will."
Graham never got many of the items he requested as part of the Hagel fight, including FBI interviews of the survivors of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, the names of those survivors, and a final answer on who changed the talking points that U.N. ambassador Susan Rice used to talk about the attack on Sept. 16.
But Graham said he can still use the nomination of John Brennan for CIA director to get the information he wants. Meanwhile, Hagel has to show his ability to lead the military and demonstrate that he will stick by the testimony he gave at his confirmation hearing, some of which contradicted his past statements on policy matters.
"Senator Hagel has got to prove to people that he's up to the job," said Graham. "Hopefully he'll live up to his testimony. After his hearing, he's tough on Iran, supportive of Israel, and he thinks sequestration is bad."
Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking Republican Bob Corker (R-TN) told The Cable Tuesday that the long and bitter confirmation process has done harm to Hagel's reputation but that Hagel can fix it if he tries.
"There's no question that this process has been very damaging to him. There's no question this has not been a positive thing for him," Corker said. "My guess is that after this thing is over he's going to need to really go to work and show that he can and will be a tremendous leader at the Defense Department."
Senate Armed Services Committee member Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) said that she will vote no on the Hagel nomination but that she is willing to work with him, as long as he takes the first steps.
"It is my hope, if he is confirmed as secretary of defense, that he will sit down with everyone on the committee and I will do everything in my power to work with him and I hope he takes different positions as secretary of defense than he did in the Senate," Ayotte said. "Traditionally, it's been a strong measure to have your secretary of defense have overwhelming bipartisan support, and he does not have that. So he's going to have to work extra hard to work with us on the committee. I will work with him."
Even Sen. Mike Johanns (R-NE), who supported Hagel's nomination and voted to end the debate two weeks ago, said that it was Hagel's responsibility to build new relationships of trust.
"I think people will try to work with him and the key for Chuck Hagel is that he reach out and I think he intends to do that," Johanns told The Cable. "He has to reach out and if he does that he will be OK."
UPDATE: The Senate confirmed Hagel Tuesday afternoon in a 58-41 vote.
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John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.