Inhofe flip-flops on Hagel endorsement

Less than a month after endorsing former Nebraska Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel for secretary of Defense, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) is pulling his support for the White House nominee.

Differences over how to address the impact of $500 billion in looming defense cuts under the Obama administration's sequestration plan ultimately forced Inhofe to back away from his initial position on the Hagel nomination, Inhofe said Tuesday.

"We are simply too philosophically opposed on the issues for me to support his nomination," Inhofe said in a statement released shortly after a meeting with Hagel on Capitol Hill.

“One of my biggest concerns is avoiding Obama’s sequestration that, as Secretary Panetta has said, would be devastating to our military," according to the statement.

"However, Senator Hagel’s comments have not demonstrated that same level of concern about the pending defense cuts," he added.

Inhofe's flip-flop could have significant consequences to Hagel's bid to replace outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

The Oklahoma Republican was named the No. 2 lawmaker on the Senate Armed Services Committee late last year, replacing Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz) as the panel's ranking GOP member.

Around the same time, Inhofe had nothing but praise for the Hagel pick, telling The Hill in December that the Vietnam veteran would be a "very good" pick for the Pentagon.

“Chuck’s a good friend. I would think he’d be very good,” Inhofe said at the time. “If I get any stronger than that, [Obama] won’t nominate him."

However, Hagel's approach to sequestration, as well as his support for nuclear disarmament and previous comments on Iran and Israel, were enough to change Inhofe's mind.

“Although we are opposed on issues, we are still friends. This is one of those rare times when policy differences don’t stand in the way of personal relationships," Inhofe said on Tuesday.

Inhofe's comments come just as the Hagel nomination was beginning to gain traction among key senators.

Hagel and the White House scored big wins on Tuesday, securing endorsements from Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).

An endorsement by Schumer, the Senate’s No. 3 Democrat and leading Jewish voice, was seen as a key piece to easing Hagel's seemingly uphill battle through Senate confirmation.

Hagel has been battered in recent weeks by critics on the left and the right.

Conservatives were angered over the nominee's comments regarding Israel's lobbying efforts in Washington and their influence on national security policy.

Hagel has taken fire from the left over past comments seen as anti-gay, regarding an openly homosexual candidate who was being considered for a U.S. ambassador post in Europe.