Obama praises Hagel as a ‘patriot’

President Obama defended former Sen. Chuck Hagel's (R-Neb.) record on Sunday, rebuffing attacks on the potential nominee for Defense secretary.


Asked whether there was anything that easily disqualified Hagel from becoming secretary of Defense, the president said "not that I see."

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"I've served with Chuck Hagel.  I know him.  He is a patriot," Obama said in an interview that aired Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press." "He is somebody who has done extraordinary work both in the United States Senate, somebody who served this country with valor in Vietnam.  And is somebody who's currently serving on my intelligence advisory board and doing an outstanding job."

Hagel, who is believed to be Obama's top choice to replace Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, has recently received criticism for comments he made 14 years ago in opposition to the nomination of James Hormel, who is gay, to serve as ambassador to Luxemborg. The Log Cabin Republicans, a group representing gay Republicans, recently published a full page ad in The New York Times urging Obama to not nominate Hagel for the Pentagon's top post. 

Critics have also attacked Hagel on his stances on Iran and Israel. Foreign policy hawks say Hagel would not take the necessary steps to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. A number of conservative groups have also questioned Hagel's views on Israel, citing the former senator's comments about the "Jewish lobby" trying to influence legislators. 

Obama added that he has not made a decision yet on whom to nominate to succeed Panetta.

Obama noted, though, that Hagel had apologized for his comments on Hormel. 

"I think it's a testimony to what has been a positive change over the last decade in terms of people's attitudes about gays and lesbians serving our country," Obama added. "And that's something that I'm very proud to have led.  And I think that anybody who serves in my administration understands my attitude and position on those issues."