The Senate today uanimously approved the nomination of Leon Panetta to be the next defense chief, handing him a crowded agenda of overseeing the drawdown of US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, tamping down congressional unrest over the Libyan conflict, and cutting the budget. Panetta will replace Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who is retiring June 30 after four-plus years on the job through the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
Panetta, the CIA director during the successful operation to kill Osama bin Laden, got strong bipartisan praise as well as a 100-0 vote. "Just a home-run choice. The president made a very wise decision," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. Panetta, 72, a former congressman, chairman of the House Budget Committee, one-time director of the Office of Management and Budget and Bill Clinton's White House chief of staff, faces several high-stakes assignments, starting with Obama's initial withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan this summer. The president will spell out more specifics of the drawdown tomorrow. (Read more Leon Panetta stories.)