January 7, 2013

Obama Set to Name Hagel, Brennan to Top Positions



And we’re back.

With a battle over raising the debt ceiling on the horizon, President Obama also appears to be spoiling for a fight with Republicans in Congress when it comes to filling his Cabinet for his second term.

On Monday, Mr. Obama will nominate Vietnam War veteran and former GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska to serve as secretary of defense and counterterrorism adviser John Brennan to serve as CIA director.

As chatter surrounding the selection of Hagel spread in recent weeks, so too did criticism of the former two-term lawmaker by some GOP senators who questioned Hagel’s views toward Israel and Iran.

During an appearance Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Hagel’s positions over the years would be subject to close scrutiny.

“I think there will be a lot of tough questions for Sen. Hagel, but he will be treated fairly by Republicans in the Senate,” McConnell said.

In a 2008 speech marking Hagel’s retirement, McConnell praised him as “a clear voice on foreign policy and national security.”

But the Republican leader said on ABC’s “This Week” that Hagel had been “outspoken” on those issues over the years: “The question we will be answering, if he’s the nominee, is do his views make sense for that particular job? I think he ought to be given a fair hearing, like any other nominee, and he will be.”

The No. 2 Republican in the Senate, John Cornyn of Texas, issued a statement Sunday saying he would oppose Hagel’s nomination.

“I will not support Chuck Hagel’s nomination to the Department of Defense. His record and past statements, particularly with respect to rogue nations like Iran, are extremely concerning to me,” Cornyn said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called the pick an “in-your-face nomination by the president” and criticized Hagel as someone who was “outside the mainstream” when it comes to foreign policy.

“Chuck Hagel, if confirmed to be the secretary of defense, would be the most antagonistic secretary of defense toward the state of Israel in our nation’s history,” Graham said Sunday on CNN. “Not only has he said you should directly negotiate with Iran, sanctions won’t work, that Israel should directly negotiate with the Hamas organization, a terrorist group that lobs thousands of rockets into Israel.”

The powerful conservative Bill Kristol also plans to oppose Hagel’s nomination as part of a strategy to reform Republicanism, Ken Vogel of Politico reports.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., defended Mr. Obama’s choice of Hagel in an interview Sunday.

“Chuck Hagel was a Republican senator from Nebraska, a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War, a person that includes service on the foreign relations committee as well as the intelligence committee,” Durbin said. “Yes, he is a serious candidate if the president chooses to name him.”

Mr. Obama praised Hagel’s record in an interview with NBC last week.

“I’ve served with Chuck Hagel. I know him. He is a patriot,” Mr. Obama said. “He is somebody who has done extraordinary work both in the United States Senate, somebody who served this country with valor in Vietnam, and is somebody who’s currently serving on my Intelligence Advisory Board and doing an outstanding job.”

The decision to push forward with the Hagel nomination comes as Mr. Obama also attempts to maneuver rocky terrain with Republicans in Congress following the tumultuous fiscal cliff negotiations and with hefty debates over deficit reduction, immigration and gun policy ahead in the coming weeks and months.

While Mr. Obama enters a second term with some political capital to spend, the question is whether he has enough to advance all the key pieces of his agenda. And if the answer is no, then the question becomes where does he cut first.

On Friday’s NewsHour, Ray Suarez examined the challenges facing Hagel and the president.

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