Tapping Hagel for Obama Cabinet could raise Republican concerns

Tapping Hagel for Obama Cabinet could raise Republican concerns

Former Sen. Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelFormer US Defense secretary: 'American global leadership now is really nowhere' Meet Trump’s pick to take over for Mattis at Pentagon Juan Williams: Trump is AWOL on our troops MORE (R-Neb.) is generating new buzz as a potential member of President Obama's second-term Cabinet.

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Hagel is reportedly on President Obama’s short list to become the next defense secretary, a pick Obama could be making in the next two weeks along with his selection to succeed Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonO’Rourke heading to Wisconsin amid 2020 speculation The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Kidney Care Partners — Lawmakers scramble as shutdown deadline nears Exclusive: Biden almost certain to enter 2020 race MORE.

If chosen, the former Nebraska senator would be Obama’s second Republican defense secretary.

With the president looking to remake his national security team, Hagel appears to be among the Republicans most likely to join it. He has an independent streak and a bipartisan reputation, and he's currently co-chairman of the president's Intelligence Advisory Board.

But Hagel could present some unusual obstacles for an across-the-aisle Cabinet selection — because Hagel is anything but a typical Republican when it comes to foreign policy.

Before he left the Senate in 2009, Hagel was a chief Republican critic of the George W. Bush administration on the Iraq War. He opposed the surge in 2007, and traveled with then candidate-Obama on a trip to Afghanistan and Iraq in 2008.

Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Michael O’Hanlon said that Hagel was experienced, capable and independent-minded, all good qualities. But he said he was wary that bringing a Republican like Hagel into the Cabinet would help with the politics of national security.

Hagel’s opposition to the Iraq surge “will cast his judgment into some doubt among some Republicans in particular, further reducing the odds that his appointment would do anything to change the tone in Washington or help Obama build a bridge to the GOP, if that was part of the thinking in considering Hagel,” O’Hanlon said.

Hagel, who is currently chairman of the Atlantic Council, is one of four people considered to be on the short list to succeed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

The others are Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter, former Undersecretary for Policy Michele Flournoy and Sen. John KerryJohn Forbes KerryWarren taps longtime aide as 2020 campaign manager In Virginia, due process should count more than blind team support Trump will give State of Union to sea of opponents MORE (D-Mass.), who is more interested in the Secretary of State post.

The decision for who should succeed Panetta has not generated nearly as much interest in recent weeks as the secretary of state selection, where Republicans have loudly criticized U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice as a possible nominee.

Compared to Rice, Hagel’s confirmation might appear to be smooth sailing. But the chief Rice critic, Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMark Kelly's campaign raises over M in days after launching Senate bid The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Kidney Care Partners — Lawmakers wait for Trump's next move on border deal Mark Kelly launches Senate bid in Arizona MORE (R-Ariz.) — who has said he’d do everything in his power to block Rice — could also play a key role in Hagel’s confirmation.

Hagel’s break with Republicans on Iraq and other foreign policy issues, such as whether to engage directly with Iranian leaders, has put him at odds with McCain. The Arizona senator was a staunch supporter of the Iraq surge and has been Obama’s chief foreign policy critic.

McCain was long a friend of Hagel when they both served in the Senate, but that friendship was tested during McCain’s 2008 presidential run.

Hagel declined to endorse McCain’s presidential bid and criticized his vice presidential pick of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

In a 2008 New Yorker profile of Hagel ahead of the election, Hagel said he wouldn’t serve in McCain’s Cabinet, highlighting how much the two had diverged on foreign policy issues.

“I’m not going to change mine to adjust to his,” Hagel said. “And I serve at the pleasure of the President. So it wouldn’t work.”

Asked by The Hill this week about the potential that Hagel could become defense secretary, McCain declined to tip his hand.

“Chuck and I have been friends for a long time, but I haven’t really thought about it,” McCain said. “I probably won’t until the nominations.”

Hagel’s potential nomination would come as Republicans like McCain and Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham seeks new Rosenstein testimony after explosive McCabe interview Senate confirms Trump pick William Barr as new attorney general Graham demands testimony from former FBI acting Director McCabe MORE (R-S.C.) are making renewed calls for the Obama administration to take a more active role in the Syrian conflict. The GOP lawmakers have also warned the White House not to remove troops too quickly from Afghanistan as the war winds down.

Hagel could run into more problems resulting from his endorsement in the Nebraska Senate race of his former Democratic Senate colleague Bob Kerrey over Republican Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerWhy Democrats are pushing for a new nuclear policy Trade official warns senators of obstacles to quick China deal Sasse’s jabs at Trump spark talk of primary challenger MORE.

Fischer, who won the Senate seat last month, would get a vote for Hagel’s confirmation next year.

In making his endorsement, Hagel was asked if he was angling for a Cabinet position. “I'd be out in Virginia or Ohio campaigning for the president, not Bob Kerrey," he responded, according to the Associated Press.

The buzz surrounding Hagel prompted the Republican Jewish Coalition to issue a pre-emptive statement last week raising concerns about Hagel’s views toward Israel.

The GOP group said his pick “could be construed as a gesture of indifference — if not outright contempt — toward Jewish Americans and every American who supports a strong U.S.-Israel alliance.”

The group cited Hagel not signing letters to urge President Bush not to meet with Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat or to label Hezbollah a terrorist organization.

Republicans senators had some praise for Hagel when asked about him as a potential defense secretary. They also said that his endorsement would have little impact on their opposition to Rice if the two were chosen at the same time.

“Chuck’s a good friend. I would think he’d be very good,” said Sen. Jim InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeOn The Money: Trump to sign border deal, declare emergency to build wall | Senate passes funding bill, House to follow | Dems promise challenge to emergency declaration Trump to sign border deal, declare national emergency Foreign Affairs chairman: US military intervention in Venezuela 'not an option' MORE (R-Okla.), who will likely succeed McCain next year as top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“If I get any stronger than that, [Obama] won’t nominate him,” Inhofe told The Hill.

Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsMcCabe book: Sessions once said FBI was better off when it 'only hired Irishmen' Senate confirms Trump pick William Barr as new attorney general Rod Rosenstein’s final insult to Congress: Farewell time for reporters but not testimony MORE (R-Ala.) noted Hagel’s military experience and independence, but didn’t give an outright endorsement.

“We’ll have to see what his views are on the issues,” Sessions said.

For Democrats, there are some concerns at the optics of Obama selecting another Republican as defense secretary, after he kept Robert Gates on as a holdover from the Bush administration. But the top Senate Democrat on defense issues signaled no opposition.

“He's obviously well qualified if the president goes in that direction," Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl LevinCarl Milton LevinListen, learn and lead: Congressional newcomers should leave the extremist tactics at home House Democrats poised to set a dangerous precedent with president’s tax returns The Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — White House to 'temporarily reinstate' Acosta's press pass after judge issues order | Graham to take over Judiciary panel | Hand recount for Florida Senate race MORE (D-Mich.) told the Omaha World-Herald.