President Barack Obama's anticipated nomination of Chuck Hagel as defense secretary poses a tougher confirmation fight for the former Republican senator within his own party than that faced by Obama's choice for secretary of state, Democratic Sen. John Kerry.
Obama will introduce Hagel as his choice to head the Defense Department at an event today where he will also nominate White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said. The announcement is scheduled for 1:05 p.m.Washington time.
The prospect of Hagel as the nominee has already raised concerns among his onetime Republican colleagues in the Senate. "I'm going to vote for Senator Kerry," Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said on CNN's "State of the Union" program. "I don't agree with him a lot, but I think he's very much in the mainstream of thought." Yet Hagel "is an in-your-face nomination," said Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "This will be a controversial choice, and we'll see where the votes go." The president formally offered the post to the former senator Sunday in a telephone call from the White House after returning from his family vacation in Hawaii, according to an administration official who requested anonymity to discuss personnel matters.
Hagel, 66, has told friends he's eager to tackle the job and is confident of confirmation. No one answered calls to his home or mobile phone yesterday amid scrutiny of the choice.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that Hagel would face "a lot of tough questions," while not ruling out his own support. "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," McConnell said on ABC's "This Week."
While the nomination of Hagel to succeed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta represents an outreach across party lines for the president, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas joined Graham on "Fox News Sunday" saying they are predisposed to oppose Hagel.
Cruz, who was sworn in last week for his first term, said Hagel "advocated weakness with respect to our enemies."
Wall Street would be "supportive" of a Hagel nomination, Byron Callan, a defense industry analyst at Capital Alpha Partners LLC in Washington, said in an e-mail.
"Hagel has private sector experience and he's well versed in defense policy and intelligence issues," Callan said. A drawn out confirmation fight would be potentially damaging as the Defense Department budget comes under pressure again in March when the next round of negotiations over spending will be coming to a head, he said.
In turning to Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat and 2004 presidential nominee, and Hagel, a Nebraska Republican, as he reshapes his national security team heading into a second term, Obama is elevating two decorated Vietnam War veterans who became opponents of the war in Iraq after their initial support in 2002. Kerry also returned from Vietnam to oppose that war.
Kerry would succeed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Senate Republicans have said they don't expect him to face any significant confirmation challenge. The nomination of any Cabinet secretary requires confirmation of the Senate.
Hagel has been discussed as the leading candidate to lead the Pentagon for more than a month, and the prospect of his 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 has called the defense budget "bloated." Hagel also has come under fire for citing the influence of the "Jewish lobby" on behalf of Israel.
"Chuck Hagel's opposition to Iranian sanctions and support for direct, unconditional talks with its leaders is both at odds with current U.S. policy and a threat to global security," Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas told the Daily Beast Sunday. "To make matters worse, he has called for direct negotiations with Hamas. The worst possible message we could send to our friend Israel and the rest of our allies in the Middle East is Chuck Hagel."
Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S., the European Union and Israel.
"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.
Obama defended Hagel in an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press" broadcast Dec. 30, saying there is nothing that would disqualify the former senator for the job.
"He's a patriot, he's somebody who has done extraordinary work in the United States Senate and somebody who served this country with valor in Vietnam," Obama said, adding Hagel also "is somebody who is currently serving on my intelligence advisory board and doing an outstanding job."