By Jeremy Herb - 01/04/13 08:37 PM EST
President Obama is expected to name former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) as his next Defense secretary early next week, according to reports.
White House officials would not confirm that Hagel has been selected by the president, but multiple reports cited outside sources saying that the announcement could come on Monday or Tuesday.
Hagel’s selection, which was first reported by Foreign Policy on Friday, would set off a major confirmation battle.
Pro-Israel groups have mobilized against Hagel since his name was leaked as the leading contender last month, and several Republican senators have come out in opposition.
Former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass) — who lobbied Friday to be named as Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) interim replacement — said Monday he was “strongly opposed” to Hagel as defense secretary. Obama nominated Kerry as the next secretary of State in December.
Pro-Israel groups have seized on Hagel’s past comments that the “Jewish lobby” intimidated people in Washington, and they fault a willingness to engage diplomatically with Hamas and Iran. The Emergency Committee on Israel, which includes Weekly Standard founder Bill Kristol as a board member, ran an attack ad against Hagel last month.
Obama defended Hagel in a “Meet the Press” interview last week, saying there was nothing that disqualified Hagel from being selected.
A number of retired military officials and former ambassadors to Israel have also written letters of support, and former U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker wrote an op-ed this week defending the former Nebraska senator.
Obama faced the potential loss of a second national security selection if he did not pick Hagel, as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice took herself out of consideration to be the next secretary of State amid an avalanche of criticism from Republicans over the attacks in Benghazi, Libya.
In addition to Hagel, Obama’s short list to succeed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta includes Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter and former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy.