Obama nominates Hagel for Pentagon, picking fight with Senate Republicans

Obama nominates Hagel for Pentagon, picking fight with Senate Republicans

President Obama on Monday nominated former Sen. Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelOvernight Defense: Senators plan 22 resolutions to block Saudi arms sale | Trump defends transgender military plan | Trump, lawmakers prep to mark D-Day anniversary The Hill's Morning Report - Mueller finally speaks. What now? Swalwell says he will convene a bipartisan 'blended cabinet' if elected president MORE (R-Neb.) to be the nation’s next Defense secretary despite warnings of a tough confirmation fight from some Senate Republicans.

“Chuck Hagel is the leader that our troops deserve,” Obama said from the White House. “He is an American patriot.”

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Obama also nominated his chief counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, to direct the CIA, where he would succeed David Petraeus, who resigned in November after revelations of an affair.

Obama noted that, if confirmed, Hagel would become the first person of enlisted rank to serve as Defense secretary, as well as the first Vietnam veteran. 

“As I saw during our visits together to Afghanistan and Iraq, the troops see a decorated combat veteran of character and strength,” Obama said. “They see one of our own.”

By picking Hagel as his Defense secretary, Obama would have his second Republican Defense chief and would add a level of bipartisanship to his Cabinet. Hagel, Brennan and Obama’s pick for secretary of State, Sen. John KerryJohn Forbes KerryOcasio-Cortez and Cruz's dialogue shows common ground isn't just for moderates 'Landslide' for Biden? A look at 40 years of inaccurate presidential polls Trump campaign considering making a play for blue state Oregon: report MORE (D-Mass.), would make up the core of Obama’s second-term national security team.


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Hagel’s possible nomination has been rumored for weeks, and has sparked criticism from Republicans over past statements the ex-senator has made on Israel and Iran. A handful have already said they will oppose his confirmation, including Senate Minority Whip John CornynJohn CornynThis week: Democrats move funding bills as caps deal remains elusive This week: Democrats move funding bills as caps deal remains elusive Trump puts GOP in tough spot with remarks on foreign 'dirt' MORE (R-Texas).

House Majority Leader Eric CantorEric Ivan CantorGOP faces tough battle to become 'party of health care' 737 crisis tests Boeing's clout in Washington House Republicans find silver lining in minority MORE (R-Va.) — who doesn't get a vote on the Hagel nomination – issued a statement after he was nominated Monday calling him "the wrong man for the job at such a pivotal time."

He also criticized Hagel for having "incendiary" views on Israel.

Pro-Israel groups are vowing to continue a lobbying campaign that began when Hagel was first named as the favorite to succeed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta at the Pentagon.

In his own brief comments, Hagel said he was “grateful" for the opportunity to serve the troops and to help “strengthen our country and our country’s alliances, and advance global freedom, decency and humanity."

In a nod toward the Republican opposition gathering around Hagel, Obama said that he “represents the bipartisan tradition we need more of in Washington.” Obama said that he admired Hagel’s willingness to speak his mind even when it wasn’t popular or defied conventional wisdom.

Brennan's nomination is also triggering a fight with Republicans. Cornyn said he would seek to block Brennan's confirmation until the completion of investigations into the leaking of classified information to the press. 

Hagel has a strong background to turn to in his confirmation fight, as a Vietnam veteran who received two Purple Hearts. He was elected to the Senate in 1996 and served until 2009. He is currently a professor at Georgetown University, chairman of the Atlantic Council and co-chairman of the president’s intelligence advisory board.

As a senator, Hagel initially supported the Iraq invasion but became one of the leading GOP critics of the war and the George W. Bush administration, and he opposed the surge in 2007.

Obama, who opposed the Iraq war, noted that Hagel knows “war is not an abstraction.” 

“He understands that sending young Americans to fight and bleed in the dirt and mud, that’s something we only do when it’s absolutely necessary,” the president said. “ ‘My frame of reference,’ he said, ‘is geared toward the guy at the bottom whose doing the fighting,’ ” Obama said of Hagel.

Obama and Hagel met and spoke a number of times throughout this process, say sources familiar with their discussions.

“They share a lot of the same views about exhausting diplomatic options before using force,” a senior administration official said. “They've traveled together to war zones and they've had a lot of time to talk about the wars. They've gotten to know each other well — they're friends. The president has sought his counsel on a number of occasions.

“They're close enough that he ultimately supported his candidacy in 2008,” the official said.

Hagel, who was long a friend of Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainOvernight Defense: US to send 1K more troops to Mideast amid Iran tensions | Iran threatens to break limit on uranium production in 10 days | US accuses Iran of 'nuclear blackmail' | Details on key defense bill amendments Overnight Defense: US to send 1K more troops to Mideast amid Iran tensions | Iran threatens to break limit on uranium production in 10 days | US accuses Iran of 'nuclear blackmail' | Details on key defense bill amendments Senators revive effort to create McCain human rights commission MORE (R-Ariz.), did not endorse McCain for president in 2008 as the two diverged on foreign policy issues, including the Iraq surge supported by McCain.

McCain has expressed some reservations about Hagel but has not said whether he would oppose his confirmation.

The most vocal opposition to Hagel has come from pro-Israel groups. The Emergency Committee on Israel, which includes Weekly Standard founder Bill Kristol on its board, put out a TV ad attacking Hagel’s credentials.

Critics point to Hagel’s 2006 comment that the “Jewish lobby” intimidates people on Capitol Hill. They also say that he is too willing to engage in negotiations with Hamas and that he has opposed sanctions against Iran.

In an interview on CNN Sunday, Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill's Morning Report - Is US weighing military action against Iran? The Hill's Morning Report - Is US weighing military action against Iran? Trump wishes 'Happy Father's Day to all,' including 'worst and most vicious critics' MORE (R-S.C.) called the pick an “in-your-face nomination” from Obama.

“Quite frankly, Chuck Hagel is out of the mainstream of thinking on most issues regarding foreign policy,” said Graham, who has said he will wait until confirmation hearings to make up his mind on his vote.

The administration also will need to win over support from pro-Israel Democrats like Sen. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerEx-state senator in North Carolina enters race against Tillis Ex-state senator in North Carolina enters race against Tillis Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw MORE (D-N.Y.), who has so far not commented on Hagel.

Sen. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinProposed bipartisan kidney legislation takes on kidney disease epidemic in America Lawmakers raise security concerns about China building NYC subway cars House votes to boost retirement savings MORE (D-Md.) said on Current TV Monday that Hagel was “controversial” and that he has questions that must be answered before supporting Hagel’s confirmation.

Hagel is also taking fire from the left for comments he made about former U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg James Hormel, whom Hagel called “openly aggressively gay” when Hormel was nominated in 1998.

Hagel apologized for his comments last month, but the Log Cabin Republicans have taken out newspaper ads opposing him.

Former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), a leading voice for gay rights, issued a statement last week saying he was “strongly opposed” to Hagel for his comments, but he walked that back on Monday by saying he hopes Hagel is confirmed. Frank has lobbied to be temporarily appointed to Kerry’s Senate seat, which could potentially give him a vote on Hagel.

A group of Senate Democrats came out in support of Hagel Monday, including Sens. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyOvernight Defense: US to send 1K more troops to Mideast amid Iran tensions | Iran threatens to break limit on uranium production in 10 days | US accuses Iran of 'nuclear blackmail' | Details on key defense bill amendments Overnight Defense: US to send 1K more troops to Mideast amid Iran tensions | Iran threatens to break limit on uranium production in 10 days | US accuses Iran of 'nuclear blackmail' | Details on key defense bill amendments Democrats aim to block defense money from being used on Trump border wall MORE (D-Vt.) and Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedTop voting machine manufacturer urges Congress to make paper records required Top voting machine manufacturer urges Congress to make paper records required Democrats ask Fed to probe Trump's Deutsche Bank ties MORE (D-R.I.), who is also a veteran. Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinOvernight Defense: US to send 1K more troops to Mideast amid Iran tensions | Iran threatens to break limit on uranium production in 10 days | US accuses Iran of 'nuclear blackmail' | Details on key defense bill amendments Overnight Defense: US to send 1K more troops to Mideast amid Iran tensions | Iran threatens to break limit on uranium production in 10 days | US accuses Iran of 'nuclear blackmail' | Details on key defense bill amendments On The Money: Democrats move funding bills as budget caps deal remains elusive | Companies line up to weigh in on 0B China tariffs | Trudeau to talk trade with Pelosi, McConnell MORE (D-Ill.), the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, defended Hagel on Sunday, and Sens. 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.) and Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinHillicon Valley: GOP senator wants one agency to run tech probes | Huawei expects to lose B in sales from US ban | Self-driving car bill faces tough road ahead | Elon Musk tweets that he 'deleted' his Twitter account Hillicon Valley: GOP senator wants one agency to run tech probes | Huawei expects to lose B in sales from US ban | Self-driving car bill faces tough road ahead | Elon Musk tweets that he 'deleted' his Twitter account New push to regulate self-driving cars faces tough road MORE (D-Calif.) have also shown their support.

The Obama administration official said the White House is aware that some Democrats like Schumer have said they're not particularly keen on the idea of Hagel. But they will be having discussions going forward with those opposed to iron out any issues such as Israel.

“That will be part of this process,” the official said. “He's a strong supporter of Israel.”

Brennan had been on Obama's short list for CIA chief back in 2008, to replace then-agency director and George W. Bush appointee Gen. Michael Hayden.

He reportedly turned down the administration's offer, fearing his role in the agency's use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” on terror detainees would be an insurmountable hurdle during the Senate confirmation process.

Panetta ended up replacing Hayden at Langley, with Brennan becoming the White House’s Deputy national security adviser and the administration’s top counterterrorism official.

Under his watch, Brennan helped shape the White House's aggressive counterterrorism strategy, focused on the increased use of armed drone strikes against suspected terror targets across the globe. He also played a key planning role in the U.S. special operations raid in March of 2011 that ended with the death of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Brennan was selected for the post over current acting CIA Director Michael Morrell.

—Amie Parnes and Carlo Muñoz contributed.

This story was posted at 1:14 p.m. and last updated at 5:22 p.m.