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U.S. Senate confirms Chuck Hagel for Defense Secretary

U.S. Senate confirms Chuck Hagel for Defense Secretary

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate has voted to confirm Chuck Hagel to be the nation’s next defense secretary.

The vote Tuesday was 58-41, with four Republicans joining Democrats in backing President Barack Obama’s nominee.

The vote ended a contentious fight over the president’s choice for his second-term national security team.

Chuck Hagel (AP)

Republicans opposed the former two-term Republican senator from Nebraska, casting him as out of the mainstream and overly critical of Israel. But Democrats stood together for Hagel, a twice-wounded Vietnam combat veteran.

Among the LGBT community, concerns persisted over Hagel’s anti-gay remarks made in 1998 against then-ambassadorial nominee James Hormel — comments for which he has apologized — and a dismal anti-gay voting in record in Congress.

But during his confirmation hearing, Hagel pledged to “move forward expeditiously” on the issue of extending partner benefits to gay service members, and said that if confirmed for the role as Defense Secretary he would do “everything possible” to extend equal benefits to all military families.

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Hagel will succeed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who is stepping down after four years as CIA director and Pentagon chief.

The vote came just hours after Republicans dropped their delay and allowed the nomination to move forward. The Senate vote to end the filibuster was 71-27.

“This is a win for all service members, and for LGBT service members and their families especially. We thank the Senator for his commitment to equal treatment and equal opportunity, and we urge him to take swift action to include our service members in non-discrimination and anti-harassment protections,” said Allyson Robinson, Executive Director of Outserve-SLDN, a national advocacy group for LGBT service members and veterans.

“Now he has the opportunity to turn his commitments into action, and we look forward to working with him to ensure our military embodies the same values of fairness and equality it protects” said Robinson.

Rea Carey, Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, added that Hagel’s “vow to support full implementation of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal, equal benefits for same-sex spouses of service members, and fair treatment of women in the military has been encouraging.”

“We welcome his evolution on these critical issues and look forward to working with him as secretary of defense to ensure full fairness for women and LGBT service members, which includes the removal of Defense Department barriers that prevent transgender people from serving their country openly,” Carey said, in a statement issued immediately following Hagel’s confirmation.

Associated Press contributed to this report.
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