By DONNA CASSATA Associated Press

WASHINGTON – A deeply divided Senate voted on Tuesday to confirm Republican Chuck Hagel to be the nation’s next defense secretary, handing President Barack Obama’s pick the top Pentagon job just days before billions of dollars in automatic, across-the-board budget cuts hit the military.

The vote was 58-41, with four Republicans joining the Democrats in backing the contentious choice. Hagel’s only GOP support came from former colleagues Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Dick Shelby of Alabama and Mike Johanns of Nebraska – all three had announced their support earlier – and Rand Paul of Kentucky.

Sens. Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republicans, both voted against the nominee.

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