President Barack Obama will nominate former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense, according to an administration official.
The nomination will be announced as soon as tomorrow, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss personnel matters. Hagel couldn’t be reached for comment.
Hagel will probably face “a lot of tough questions” in confirmation hearings, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” today. Presidential cabinet choices are subject to Senate confirmation.
Hagel, 66, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, has been discussed as the leading candidate for the job for more than a month and his possible nomination has drawn opposition from an ad hoc coalition of Republican advocates of muscular defense policies, supporters of Israel and gay-rights activists.
He opposed the troop surge during the Iraq war under Republican President George W. Bush, questioned unilateral economic sanctions against Iran and called the defense budget “bloated.” Hagel also come under fire for citing the influence of the “Jewish lobby” on behalf of Israel.
Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz both said they were predisposed to oppose Hagel.
“This is an in-your-face nomination by the president,” Graham said on CNN’s “State of the Union” today. “Quite frankly Chuck Hagel is out of the mainstream of thinking on most issues regarding foreign policy.”
“If Hagel is nominated it is very difficult to imagine a circumstance in which I could support his record,” Cruz said on the “Fox News Sunday” program. “He has consistently advocated weakness with respect to our enemies.”
The criticism of Hagel has drawn a counter-attack from a bipartisan group of former U.S. national security advisers -- James L. Jones, Brent Scowcroft, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Frank Carlucci. “Hagel is a man of unshakable integrity and wisdom who has served his country in the most distinguished manner in peace and war,” they wrote in a letter published in the Washington Post on Dec. 25.
Hagel would be the second member of Obama’s national security and foreign policy team to be named for the administration’s second term. In December, the president said he will nominate Massachusetts Senator John Kerry to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state.
Graham said that he would support Kerry, even though he disagrees with him on some issues. On Hagel, he added: “The hearings will matter, but I am very inclined to not support him” because of his statements about Israel and Iran.
McConnell didn’t indicate if he would support Hagel’s nomination. “I’m going to wait and see how the hearings go and see whether Chuck’s views square with the job he would be nominated to do,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.”
To contact the reporters on this story: Hans Nichols in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org; Mark Drajem in Washington at email@example.com
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