By Kristina Wong - 12/05/14 11:18 AM EST
Defense Secretary Chuck HagelChuck HagelCreating a future for vets in DC Republicans back Clinton, but will she put them in Pentagon? There's still time for another third-party option MORE skipped the White House ceremony Friday, where President Obama nominated Ashton Carter to take his place, saying he did not want his presence to be a distraction.
"As Secretary Hagel knows better than most, today is a day that is to celebrate Ash, his family, and all that he will accomplish. The secretary is proud of Ash and of their friendship and does not want in any way to detract from or distract the proper focus of the day," a Defense Department official said.
After the ceremony, Hagel issued a statement calling Carter "a patriot and a leader" and said he strongly supported him.
"In my first year as secretary, when Ash was my deputy, I had the opportunity to work with him on some of our nation's toughest national security challenges. I relied on him to lead some of the Defense Department's most important initiatives," he said.
Hagel has promised to stay on until Carter is confirmed by the Senate, which is unlikely to happen until next year.
"If confirmed as secretary of defense, Ash Carter would make important contributions to our nation's security and armed forces. I urge the United States Senate to confirm Ash without delay, and, until then, I look forward to continuing my service as secretary and ensuring a smooth transition," he said.
Hagel appeared Thursday at a Pentagon press conference to unveil a progress report on the department's efforts against military sexual assault but instead only fielded questions about his departure.
He refused to confirm reports he was forced out of the White House over policy disagreements, or tensions with members of the president's team, emphasizing that only he and Obama know the real story.
"But it's a combination of things, as you think through these things, and the president and I talked about it, so I'm very comfortable with my position and my decision. I think the president feels good about it; I feel good about it," Hagel said.