Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Sunday expressed dismay at reports President Obama would tap former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) for Secretary of Defense, calling it an “in your face” selection.
“I like Chuck Hagel. He served with distinction in Vietnam as an enlisted man -- two Purple Hearts. But quite frankly Chuck Hagel is out of the mainstream of thinking on most issues regarding foreign policy,” said Graham in an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Reports Sunday said that Obama had decided to name Hagel to replace current Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta as early as Monday.
The selection of Hagel is likely to set off a fierce confirmation battle with many conservative lawmakers already signaling opposition to their former colleague.
Pro-Israel groups have questioned Hagel’s support for the U.S. ally, in particular after comments he made in office about the “Jewish lobby” intimidating fellow lawmakers. Hagel has also faced criticism for his calls for the U.S. to engage diplomatically with Hamas and Iran and for his sharp criticism of President George W. Bush’s Iraq troop surge.
Obama last week said there was nothing in Hagel’s record which would disqualify him from being considered for the position. A number of retired military officials and former diplomats also rallied to Hagel’s defense this last week in an op-ed.
But Graham on Sunday said that with the selection, Obama was setting a confrontational tone for the start of his second term.
“It looks like the second term of Barack Obama is going to be an in your face term,” he said.
Graham said he understood the president had won reelection and had the prerogative to nominate his choices for the Cabinet. He said that while he was willing to confirm other nominees he disagreed with, Hagel’s views were too troubling.
Graham said Hagel would be the “most antagonistic secretary of Defense toward the state of Israel in our nation’s history.”
“I will continue to support people chosen by President Obama that I would not have chosen. Sen. [John] Kerry [D-Mass.], has a lot of different views than I do,” he said of Obama’s selection for Secretary of State. “But I respect him, I think he’s a thoughtful man, he’s in the mainstream.
“I’ll have a hard time voting for anybody to be secretary of Defense who believes the surge was a foreign policy blunder,” he said of Hagel. “I’ll have a hard time voting for anybody for Secretary of Defense who believes the Iranians are misunderstood.”
Asked if he would filibuster the nomination, Graham said “the hearings will matter, he can set some of this straight. … Maybe these are statements taken out of context.”
“There will be a lot of bipartisan concern. This will be a controversial choice and let’s see where the votes go,” said Graham.