Former DOD policy chief Michèle Flournoy has emerged as the top pick among Democrats, while Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter is being heavily touted by Republicans and conservatives as the best pick to succeed outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
A feature profile on Carter by the Boston Globe on Thursday noted the former Pentagon acquisition chief was "the favorite" among the Pentagon's senior leadership to replace Panetta.
One unnamed Pentagon official told the Globe that Carter was "a sleeper brand waiting to hit the market big" if he becomes the administration's nominee to take Panetta's seat at DOD.
There are benefits on both sides for the Obama administration with either pick. Should the president go with Flournoy, she would be the first female nominee to head up the Pentagon.
A Flournoy nomination would also fall in line with recent administration picks such as Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonFive takeaways from the Scott Pruitt emails Trump: DNC chairman's race ‘rigged’ Dem 2020 hopefuls lead pack in opposing Trump Cabinet picks MORE and Supreme Court justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor.
But by selecting Carter, the White House would gain some major political capital inside the Pentagon, particularly at a time when tensions are expected to rise between DOD and the administration as DOD prepares for a looming drawdown in funding and personnel.
However, administration officials have remained mum on which way President Obama might go at the Pentagon as it is becoming increasingly clear that Hagel may not survive the confirmation process.
Hagel, who is the White House's presumptive nominee to replace Panetta, has been repeatedly hammered by liberals and conservatives alike in recent weeks.
The former senator's comments regarding the U.S. stance on Iran's nuclear enrichment program has drawn intense criticism from the right, who claim such comments could be detrimental to the regional security of Israel.
During an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press," Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamThe Hill's 12:30 Report Back to the future: Congress should look to past for Fintech going forward CNN to host town hall featuring John McCain, Lindsey Graham MORE (R-S.C.) said Hagel's outlook on Iran, Israel and the Mideast are "troubling" and would cause concern among senators should Hagel be nominated for the DOD post.
"I think it would be a challenging [confirmation] hearing," Graham said.
On the left, Hagel has been chastised for comments made more than a decade ago about U.S. Ambassador James Hormel, considered by many as anti-gay.
The Log Cabin Republicans, a political activist group of gay Republicans, took out an ad in Thursday's New York Times slamming Hagel's comments and his ability to become the new Defense secretary.
"Chuck HagelChuck HagelWho will temper Trump after he takes office? Hagel: I’m ‘encouraged’ by Trump’s Russia outreach Want to 'drain the swamp'? Implement regular order MORE: Wrong on gay rights. Wrong on Iran. Wrong on Israel," reads the ad. "Tell President Obama that Chuck Hagel is wrong for Defense Secretary."
Hagel has since publicly apologized for the comments, made when Hormel was being considered as the new U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg.