Biden defends Hagel, Kerry, dismisses GOP critics as ‘ridiculous’

Vice President Biden offered a staunch defense of President Obama’s second-term national security picks on Wednesday, calling GOP criticisms “ridiculous.”

In an interview with CNN, Biden was asked to respond to suggestions that former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), who has been nominated to lead the Pentagon, and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who was confirmed to be secretary of State, would be less than assertive in defending the nation’s interests abroad.

“Where have they been for four years,” asked Biden of those critics. The vice president said Obama’s first-term record should put to rest any questions about the president’s foreign-policy agenda.

“The real President Obama has exercised force responsibly as boldly and as bravely as any president in American history,” he said. “This is the guy who's not backed away. And he's also ended wars that almost every military man out there will tell you we should not be engaged in again.”

“The idea of getting engaged again in a ground war in a country that is in transition is not a prescription any military man would suggest and to suggest that two, two war heroes, one with a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart, Silver Star, taking over both the foreign … State Department and Defense, is a dove or whatever the phrase was, is ridiculous,” Biden added.

Biden’s comments come as Hagel is set to confront his GOP critics in his confirmation hearing on Thursday. While Kerry was confirmed on Tuesday in a near unanimous 94-3 vote by the Senate, Hagel is expected to face a much more contentious nomination process.

The former Nebraska senator has faced strong criticism from many Republican lawmakers who have questioned his opposition to the Iraq war surge and policies toward Iran and Israel.

Pro-Israel groups and pro-gay rights groups have raised questions about his past comment criticizing the “Jewish lobby” for intimidating lawmakers and a remark he made in 1998 about an “aggressively gay” diplomatic nominee.

Hagel has expressed regret for those remarks and vowed he would be a strong ally of Israel and implement the administration’s policies ending “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Hagel has picked up crucial support in the run-up to his hearings, speaking with senators privately on Capitol Hill. Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.) endorsed him earlier this month and on Wednesday he gained the backing of Sen. Thad Cochran (Miss.), the first Republican to support his confirmation.

But seven Republicans have already pledged to vote against him and others say he will have an uphill fight to win their support. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) charged Wednesday that Hagel’s nomination had already done “damage” to the U.S., saying he had no “credibility” on countering Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Hagel has sought to assuage senators’ concerns. On Wednesday he submitted answers on a number of policy questions to the Senate Armed Services Committee, ahead of his hearing.

In those responses, Hagel pledged to prepare the U.S. military to be ready for “all options” to counter aggression from Iran and said he backs the administration’s plan for a “steady” reduction in the number of U.S. servicemen in Afghanistan.

Kerry is expected to be sworn in this week to replace outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.