WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/AP) — President Barack Obama has picked former Republican U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel as the next defense secretary, sources said Sunday.
They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the imminent nomination.
CBS News Correspondent Sharyl Attkisson reported Hagel has two terms under his belt as a Republican Senator from Nebraska. He is also a decorated Vietnam War infantry sergeant with two Purple Hearts.
Those qualifications are among the reasons President Barack Obama is considering him to be the next Defense Secretary.
Hagel has friends on both sides of the aisle. Once embraced by Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, he is now a member of President Obama’s intelligence advisory board.
But on Sunday, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called Hagel an “in your face” pick — and one he strongly opposes.
“Chuck Hagel, if confirmed to be Secretary of Defense, would be the most antagonistic Secretary of Defense toward the State of Israel in our nation’s history,” Graham said on CNN Sunday.
The Senate’s Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said Sunday he is reserving judgment on whether to support Hagel, and predicted that his former colleague would face serious question about his stands on Iran and Israel.
The reason is that Hagel has taken positions opponents see as soft on the terrorist groups Hezbollah and Hamas, Israel’s enemies. He has supported direct talks with the U.S.-designated terrorist states Syria and Iran.
Hagel also took heat from pro-Israel groups following a 2006 interview in the in which he said, “The Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here,” CBS News reported. An unnamed Republican aide went so far as to call Hagel an “anti-Semite” and said: “Hagel has made clear he believes in the existence of a nefarious Jewish lobby that secretly controls U.S. foreign policy. This is the worst kind of anti-Semitism there is.”
The criticism turned more mainstream last week when the Washington Post editorial board said Hagel’s positions on Iran and Defense spending cuts “place him near the fringe of the Senate that would be asked to confirm him,” CBS News reported.
Hagel also came under fire last week from gay rights activists, over disparaging remarks he made about a gay ambassadorial nominee in 1998.
Hagel assailed then-President Clinton’s nominee for ambassador to Luxembourg, James Hormel, as “openly, aggressively gay,” questioning whether Hormel could “do an effective job,” CBS News reported.
Ambassadors “are representing America,” Hagel told the Omaha World-Herald in 1998. “They are representing our lifestyle, our values, our standards. And I think it is an inhibiting factor to be gay.”
Hagel apologized for the remarks on Friday.
President Obama, who returned to the White House on Sunday after his vacation in Hawaii, may round out his new national security leadership team this coming week, with a nomination for Pentagon chief expected and a pick to lead the Central Intelligence Agency possible.
A congressional aide said Senate Democrats have been given a heads-up from the White House that Hagel’s selection is imminent. The aide was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
McConnell said any defense nominee must have “a full understanding of our close relationship with our Israeli allies, the Iranian threat, and the importance of having a robust military.”
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