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An Unusually Partisan Confirmation Vote

Former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel was confirmed Tuesday as President Obama’s new secretary of defense. Mr. Hagel — after failing to clear a Republican filibuster 12 days ago — cleared a cloture vote easily early Tuesday before being confirmed by the Senate by a vote of 58 to 41.

But Mr. Hagel’s confirmation was more partisan than those for other recent secretaries of defense, and by a large margin, with votes from 54 Democrats and 4 Republicans. For the data we have available — covering all defense secretary votes since Jimmy Carter was sworn in as president in January 1977 — Mr. Hagel is the only defense secretary to be confirmed with fewer than 90 votes.


In fact, three recent nominees — Donald Rumsfeld, Les Aspin and Harold Brown — faced such little opposition that they were confirmed by a voice vote, where senators are not even troubled to go on the record with a yea or nay.

John Tower, former President George Bush’s nominee for defense in 1989, was rejected by the Senate after allegations of “womanizing” and “hard drinking.” But the rejection of a cabinet nominee is exceedingly rare; it has happened only nine times. Instead, troubled cabinet nominations are usually withdrawn.

Mr. Hagel is in the rare position of gaining confirmation with less than overwhelming support in the Senate.

Micah Cohen is FiveThirtyEight’s former managing editor.