Five candidates to replace Hagel

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The surprise resignation Monday of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is stirring rampant speculation about who might take his place in President Obama’s Cabinet.

While Obama has several possible candidates, the choice is complicated by the fact that he will have to get his nominee past a Republican-controlled Senate next year.

{mosads}Two of Obama’s three Department of Defense (DOD) secretaries — Hagel and Robert Gates — have come from the GOP, raising the possibility that the president will seek yet another nominee from the opposing party to ease the path to confirmation.

But the president hasn’t shied away from confrontation with the GOP in the wake of his party’s midterm election defeats, and could seek to make a statement with his Defense pick. 

One lawmaker seen as a prime candidate to run the DOD, Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), quickly took himself out of the running Monday morning, with his office stating he “does not wish to be considered for secretary of Defense or any other Cabinet position.”

Here are five other people who could be in the running for the Pentagon job.

1. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.)

The retiring six-term lawmaker would likely face an easy path to confirmation from his colleagues in the Senate.

Levin is well versed in all aspects of DOD policy, having served for six years as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. He has also defended Obama’s strategy against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq (ISIS) despite growing calls from Republicans and some in his own party for a new battle plan.

Yet Levin has strayed from the White House line on other key national security issues, such as giving arms to Ukraine’s military to ward off Russian forces. He has also said he wants the Pentagon to speed its plans to train and equip moderate Syrian rebel groups to combat ISIS.

Levin has indicated he intends to leave Washington once his term is up in January.

“He’s looking forward to heading back to Michigan full-time,” a Levin aide said Monday. 

2. Michèle Flournoy

Flournoy has long been seen as a likely candidate to become the first female secretary of Defense in U.S. history.

She already has extensive experience at the Pentagon, having served as undersecretary of Defense for policy from 2009 to 2012. She worked under both Robert Gates and Leon Panetta and was viewed as a possible replacement for Panetta when he announced his retirement.

But Flournoy has been rumored as a top candidate to join Hillary Clinton’s national security team, should she make a run for the White House, and might be interested in staying put for now as chief executive officer at the Center for a New American Security.

3. Ashton Carter

A former deputy secretary of Defense, Carter, along with Flournoy, was assumed to be one of the front-runners to replace Pentagon chief Leon Panetta when he left the department in 2012.

Instead, Carter stepped down at the end of 2013 after being passed over for Hagel.

As the Pentagon’s deputy chief, Carter spearheaded efforts to rein in costs and excessive spending in the department’s expansive weapons development programs, an effort he began as the department’s top weapons buyer under former Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

He also drafted the Pentagon’s strategy to deal with the budget cuts from sequestration.

Carter also played a role in the Pentagon-wide review of the department’s security measures at military installations in the wake of the mass shooting at the Navy’s Washington headquarters in September 2013.

4. Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.)

With Reed seemingly out of the running, Smith — the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee — could be an appealing candidate for the White House.

The Washington lawmaker, just elected to his tenth term, has been closely aligned with the administration on its ISIS strategy and has blasted Republican calls for boots on the ground in Iraq.

Smith has also backed the administration as a member of the House Select Committee that is investigating Benghazi.

Obama pulled a nominee from the House Armed Services Committee before, nominating former Rep. John McHugh (R-N.Y.) to be Army Secretary.

5. Robert Work

Work, a retired Marine Corps colonel and former Navy undersecretary, joined the Pentagon in April as Hagel’s deputy.

He has visited Capitol Hill regularly and often in this short tenure, briefing lawmakers on a range of national security developments, including the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and the battle against ISIS. He has testified about the need to maintain Overseas Contingency Operations, commonly known as the war fund.

Most recently, Work was tapped to lead the Deterrent Enterprise Review Group, which is looking into how DOD should best maintain its nuclear weapons stockpile in the wake of several scandals.

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