(CBS NEWS) -- After weeks of speculation, President Obama formally tapped former
Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., to be defense secretary today, inviting a
potential nominating battle from members of both sides of the aisle even
as he prepares for several tough legislative fights in the coming
Mr. Obama, announcing his pick in the White House
this afternoon, lauded the Vietnam veteran and two-term senator for his
military credentials, his loyalty to the troops, and his willingness to
go against the party grain. He also formally nominated John Brennan, a
25-year CIA veteran and his top counterterrorism adviser, to lead the
"Chuck Hagel is the leader that our troops deserve,"
Mr. Obama said today in the press conference announcing his decision.
"He understands that America stands strongest when we stand with allies
and friends... Maybe most importantly, Chuck knows that war is not an
abstraction. He understands that sending young Americans to fight and
bleed in the dirt and mud, that's something we only do when it's
Mr. Obama's announcement promises to be divisive: Even before the
decision was official, a handful of Republicans were threatening to
pitch a fight over Hagel's nomination, denouncing the former lawmaker's
positions on Israel and Iran and in some cases pledging to vote against
"I will not support Chuck Hagel's nomination," said
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tex., in a statement released yesterday. "His record
and past statements, particularly with respect to rogue nations like
Iran, are extremely concerning to me."
Hagel has taken
particular heat from the right for having opposed some sanctions for
Iran, as well as for taking stances on Hezbollah and Hamas that critics
have decried as overly lenient. He has also come under attack for having
criticized "the Jewish lobby," which has invoked the ire of pro-Israel
advocates. Additionally, he was a vocal critic of former President
George W. Bush's policies in Iraq.
Moments after Mr. Obama's
announcement, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., released a statement expressing
his reservations with the nomination.
"I have serious concerns about positions Senator Hagel has taken on a
range of critical national security issues in recent years, which we
will fully consider in the course of his confirmation process before the
Senate Armed Services Committee," he said. McCain, who led the charge
against U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice's potential nomination to be
Secretary of State, also said he had "many questions and concerns" about
McCain has had kinder words for Hagel in the past: In July of 2008, McCain suggested that
he might offer him a spot in his administration if elected. A month
later, however, Hagel said he would not endorse either candidate for
president, but did say he would consider being Mr. Obama's running mate
Democrats are not without their own concerns about the
selection: In addition to being a Republican, Hagel has been criticized
for making anti-gay remarks in the late '90s. He also authored a
resolution opposing the Kyoto climate change treaty in 1997.
there are no indications that a significant contingent of Senate
Democrats will go up against Mr. Obama to oppose the nomination. Sen.
Ben Cardin, D-Md., said today that while Mr. Obama's decision was
"controversial," he believes that Hagel will ultimately make it through
"There are some statements that Senator Hagel
has made that he needs to clarify. And we'll see how the confirmation
process proceeds if he's nominated," he said today in an appearance on
Current TV's "Bill Press Show." Asked if he thought Hagel would be
confirmed, Cardin said, "the answer is yes, I think he probably will,"
but that "It's not a foregone conclusion."
right now seemed to be well organized in opposition. There are Democrats
including this senator who have questions that have to be answered
before I can support him," he added. "The process is going to have to go
forward if the president nominates him."
Amid the ongoing criticism of his past statements on Israel, Hagel defended his views today
in an interview today with the Lincoln Journal-Star, and accused
detractors of inaccurately characterizing his positions as anti-Israel.
argued that a fair look at his record would show "unequivocal, total
support for Israel," and that there's "not one shred of evidence that
I'm anti-Israeli, not one [Senate] vote that matters that hurt Israel,"
according to the Journal-Star.
"I didn't sign on to certain resolutions and letters because they were counter-productive and didn't solve a problem," he said.
National Jewish Democratic Council is signaling hedged support for
Hagel's nomination, affirming in a statement today that, despite
previous concerns, "we trust that when confirmed, former Senator Chuck
Hagel will follow the President's lead of providing unrivaled support
for Israel -- on strategic cooperation, missile defense programs, and
leading the world against Iran's nuclear program."
Mr. Obama, meanwhile, cites Hagel's "independence" as part of his appeal.
represents the bipartisan tradition that we need more of in
Washington," he said today in his remarks. "In the Senate, I came to
admire his courage and his judgment, his willingness to speak his mind,
even if it wasn't popular, even if it defied the conventional wisdom.
And that's exactly the spirit I want on my national security team, a
recognition that when it comes to the defense of our country, we are not
Democrats or Republicans, we are Americans."