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Published: Monday, 1/7/2013

Hagel is choice to lead Defense Dept.

Former GOP senator from Nebraska draws fire from both sides of the aisle

NEW YORK TIMES

WASHINGTON — President Obama will nominate a former Nebraska senator, Chuck Hagel, as his next defense secretary, a White House official said Sunday.

Mr. Obama turned to a prominent Republican to lead the Pentagon as it faces the challenge of winding down the war in Afghanistan and possible reductions in military spending.

But the nomination, which the White House official said would occur today, already encountered opposition from Republicans and Democrats because of Mr. Hagel’s views on Israel and Iran and his comments about an ambassador who was gay.

Republicans have raised objections to statements by Mr. Hagel that they have described as dismissive of Israel and soft on Iran.

Mr. Hagel once described pro-Israel lobbying groups as the “Jewish lobby.” He has insisted that he is a strong supporter of Israel.

Speaking on Sunday talk shows, some Republican senators indicated that a stormy confirmation process was all but inevitable.

“His views with regard to Israel, for example, and Iran and all the other positions that he’s taken over the years will be very much a matter of discussion in the confirmation process,” Sen. Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) and the Republican leader in the Senate, said on NBC’s Meet the Press.

Mr. McConnell said he had not decided whether he would support Mr. Hagel.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) said Sunday that he personally liked Mr. Hagel, but that he was “out of the mainstream of thinking on most issues regarding foreign policy.”

“This is an in-your-face nomination of the President to all of us who are supportive of Israel,” Mr. Graham said on CNN. “I don’t know what his management experience is regarding the Pentagon — little if any — so I think it’s an extremely controversial choice.”

Those sentiments were echoed by Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas), who said the President was being overly dismissive of criticism about Mr. Hagel.

“I think this is a President right now who has drunk the tea,” Mr. Cruz said on Fox News Sunday. “He is feeling very good about himself; he is feeling like there can be no opposition to his position. And so, it doesn’t seem — he doesn’t seem terribly concerned that there’s not a lot of support for Chuck Hagel in the Senate.”

Mr. Cruz said he probably would vote against Mr. Hagel’s confirmation.

Mr. Hagel, 66, also has received criticism for opposing several bills to impose unilateral sanctions on Iran.

His supporters point out that he has backed several rounds of sanctions aimed at preventing Iranian weapons proliferation.

Mr. Hagel’s candidacy also raised questions among some liberal groups because of a statement he made 14 years ago about President Bill Clinton’s nominee for ambassador to Luxembourg, James Hormel.

Mr. Hormel, he said, was not qualified because he was “openly, aggressively gay.” Mr. Hagel has since apologized.

The President has praised Mr. Hagel, a decorated Vietnam veteran, as a patriot, saying nothing in his record would prevent him from serving as defense secretary.

He spent 12 years in the Senate, retiring in 2009 after serving on the Foreign Relations Committee.

As senator, he called for trimming defense budgets and often expressed skepticism about involving U.S. troops in extended missions abroad. Whatever the criticism of his views on Israel, perhaps his most pressing concern if confirmed would be withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.



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