Washington, D.C. — President Barack Obama has settled on Chuck Hagel, a Republican and former U.S. senator from Nebraska, to succeed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, with an announcement expected Monday, Democratic officials tell Politico.
Hagel, the former Republican Sen. from Nebraska, opposed his party on the Iraq war as a senator.
Obama’s choice is likely to ignite a raucous confirmation battle, since several Democratic interest groups and prominent Republicans have voiced strong opposition since Hagel’s vetting for the job was reported five weeks ago.
Back in 2007 then senator Hagel said this of our invasion of Iraq, “People say we’re not fighting for oil. Of course we are. They talk about America’s national interest. What the hell do you think they’re talking about? We’re not there for figs.”
A Democratic aide described the White House’s logic for choosing Hagel, as reported by Politico:
“Chuck Hagel is a decorated war hero who would be the first enlisted soldier and Vietnam veteran to go on to serve as Secretary of Defense. He had the courage to break with his party during the Iraq War, and would help bring the war in Afghanistan to an end while building the military we need for the future.
“He has been a champion for troops, veterans and military families through his service at the VA and USO, and his leadership on behalf of the post-9/11 G.I. Bill. The President knows him well, has travelled with him to Iraq and Afghanistan, trusts him, and believes he represents the proud tradition of a strong, bipartisan foreign policy in the United States.”
Pro-Israel groups have questioned Hagel’s support for the U.S. ally, seizing on comments he made in the past about the “Jewish lobby” intimidating lawmakers.
Hagel has also been criticized for past comments calling for the U.S. to engage diplomatically with Hamas and Iran.
Pro-gay rights groups have also expressed concern with Hagel over a remark he made in 1998, criticizing a gay nominee for U.S. ambassador.
Hagel apologized for those comments last month.
President Obama in an interview last week said he had not made a decision on who would replace Leon Panetta in the top Pentagon post, but defended Hagel.
Obama said there was nothing in Hagel’s record which would disqualify him from being considered for the post at the Pentagon.
A number of retired military officials last week also rallied to the former senator’s defense in an op-ed.