Obama to nominate Hagel for Defense, Brennan to lead CIA

President Obama will nominate former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel (Neb.) as his next Defense secretary and counterterrorism adviser John Brennan to lead the CIA, a senior administration official confirmed to The Hill.

Obama will announce the nominations at a White House event at 1 p.m. on Monday afternoon.

ADVERTISEMENT
Hagel and Brennan, along with Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who has been nominated for secretary of State, would form the centerpiece of the president’s second-term national-security team.

But the selection of Hagel is likely to face strong opposition from GOP lawmakers, many of whom have said their former colleague can expect to face tough questioning on his views.

GOP lawmakers have raised questions on whether Hagel would be a strong ally of Israel, seizing on remarks he made in the past about the “Jewish lobby” intimidating Congress. Hagel has also been criticized for past comments calling for the U.S. to engage diplomatically with Hamas and Iran.


Brennan’s nomination could also face controversy from the left. Brennan, a 25-year veteran of the intelligence community, withdrew his name from consideration to lead the CIA in 2008, after criticism from some Democrats who questioned his role in the Bush administration’s use of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques. Brennan at the time said that he had been an opponent of many of those policies.

A report in The Wall Street Journal on Monday said administration officials expect a tough confirmation fight, but believe Hagel and Brennan will be successful in winning the support of senators. 

The report said the White House would push back against the criticism, touting Hagel’s record as a decorated former service member and highlighting the fact that he would be the first enlisted man to run the Pentagon. 

Officials also say that Hagel’s views on Iran and Israel have been misrepresented. Obama deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said Hagel would be “completely in line with the president” on those issues, according to a report by The Associated Press.

“The president has a record of unprecedented security cooperation with Israel, and that's going to continue no matter who the Defense secretary is,” said Rhodes.

Rhodes also said that the administration does not expect Brennan to face similar opposition over enhanced interrogation this time.

“The issue has been removed from the debate because the president and John Brennan, as his top counterterrorism adviser, brought those techniques to an end,” said Rhodes to the AP.  

A report from CNN said the White House had begun notifying lawmakers on Sunday of their decision to rally support and expected a tough confirmation battle ahead.

On Sunday, GOP lawmakers made clear that Hagel faces a challenging path to the Pentagon’s top post.

In an interview on CNN Sunday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called the pick an “in-your-face nomination” from Obama. 

“Quite frankly, Chuck Hagel is out of the mainstream of thinking on most issues regarding foreign policy,” said Graham. 

Graham said he believed that Hagel would be the “most antagonistic secretary of Defense toward the state of Israel in our nation’s history” and that he would have a “hard time” voting for him in light of many of his prior statements.

But the South Carolina senator said Hagel would have the opportunity to defend himself. “The hearings will matter. He can set some of this straight,” he said. “There will be a lot of bipartisan concern. This will be a controversial choice, and let’s see where the votes go.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Sunday likewise declined to offer support for his former GOP colleague, but promised a fair hearing for the potential nominee. 

“I’m going to wait and see how the hearings go, and whether Chuck’s views square” with the job, McConnell said. 

Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), however, praised Hagel as a “serious candidate.”

“Chuck Hagel was a Republican senator from Nebraska, a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War, a person who has a resume that includes service on the Foreign Relations Committee as well as the Intelligence Committee,” said Durbin on CNN Sunday. "Yes, he is a serious candidate if the president chooses to name him.”

President Obama, who said in an interview last week said he had not made a decision yet on who would serve in the top Pentagon post in his second term, also defended Hagel.

Obama said there was nothing in Hagel’s record that would disqualify him from being considered for the position.

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

Pro-gay-rights groups have 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.

Obama last week said that Hagel’s views had changed and that he would expect any nominee to back the administration’s policies on the repeal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Hagel would replace outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Brennan would succeed Acting CIA Director Michael Morell. Morell assumed the top CIA post in November, after former Director David Petraeus resigned, citing an extramarital affair. 

The White House said Morell will stay on at the CIA, according to reports.

This story was last updated on Jan. 7 at 8:15 a.m.