Hagel sworn in as defense secretary, calls sequester a "reality"

New Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is greeted by USMC Lt. General Thomas Waldhauser, who will serve as Hagel's Senior Private Military Assistant, as he arrives for his first day at the Department of Defense, on February 27, 2013 in Arlington. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Former Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., was sworn in today as President Obama's next defense secretary, following a rocky confirmation in the Senate yesterday. In remarks to the Defense Department, Hagel said the challenges ahead, including the sequester cuts, will define the department as well as the nation.

Mr. Obama and congressional leaders say they want to avert the sequester, which goes into effect Friday, but Hagel today called the cuts a "reality." The automatic budget cuts, if left untouched, would slash around $500 billion from the Pentagon budget over 10 years.

"I don't need to dwell on all the good news there," Hagel said facetiously. "We need to figure this out... We need to deal with this reality."

Hagel, however, put an optimistic spin on the department's challenges, saying, "It's difficult, but it's also pretty special, when you think about generations and how many generations have had an opportunity to be a part of something great."

Hagel's confirmation yesterday came after a protracted and controversial confirmation process. Just four Senate Republicans joined Democrats in confirming his nomination yesterday.

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