Former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell on Sunday vigorously defended President Obama’s nomination of Chuck Hagel to run the Defense Department, saying the former Republican senator is “superbly qualified.”
Despite the support of some Republicans, Mr. Hagel is expected to face tough scrutiny during upcoming Senate committee hearings on his nomination, particularly from hawks in both parties who suggest he would be soft in prosecuting the nation’s fight against terrorism and who question his commitment to Israel.
Mr. Powell, who headed the State Department during President George W. Bush’s first term,but endorsed Mr. Obama in both his presidential runs and was harshly critical of the tea party again Sunday, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Mr. Hagel has a “very, very distinguished public service record that he can stand on” and that he “will do a great job as secretary of defense.”
Mr. Powell, who also served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, said Mr. Hagel’s decision to volunteer for the Vietnam War, where he was wounded twice in combat, “show[s] you the kind of courage this guy has and what he believes in.”
“This is a guy who knows veterans, knows the troops,” he said. “He knows what war is, and he will fight a war if it’s necessary, but he’s a guy who will do it with great deliberation and care.”
Mr. Powell added that Mr. Hagel’s 12 years in the Senate and his current faculty position with Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service make him a “gentleman who knows all of these issues in depth.”
Sen. Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat, said Mr. Hagel “brings some unique quality to this job” because of his military and political leadership experience. He told ABC’s “This Week” that he thinks the former senator from Nebraska will be confirmed “with strong support.”
“One thing that’s terribly compelling — and it goes to his credibility with the forces — he’s been a combat soldier,” Mr. Reed said. “He’s fought. He has literally walked in their boots. That, I think, will inspire great confidence in the military officers and enlisted men that he deals with, and women.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat, who is staunchly pro-Israel, told “Fox News Sunday” that he isn’t fully comfortable with the nomination and has questions for Mr. Hagel. But he said the former senator is “someone of stature” and a “war hero,” and predicted he will be confirmed.
But Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on “This Week” that he has concerns that Mr. Hagel’s “overall temperament” could make him ill-suited to run the Pentagon.
“I think there are numbers of staffers who are coming forth now just talking about the way he has dealt with them,” Mr. Corker said. “I have, certainly questions, about a lot of things.”
Mr. Corker said his concerns were not “disqualifying” and that he begins “all of these confirmation processes with an open mind.”
Mr. Hagel’s nomination has stoked criticism from conservatives who have doubts about the depth of his support for Israel and his willingness to get tough with sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry said last week that it was hopeful that a Hagel-led Pentagon would improve relations between Tehran and the United States.
“I want to make sure is that Iran is actually not hopeful, but they are fearful as a result of our nominee for secretary of defense,” she said on “Fox News Sunday.”
Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, who served with Mr. Hagel on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and considers the nominee a friend, said he will wait until the former senator appears at his nomination hearings before deciding whether he will support his bid.
“My questions about him are: What is his view of America’s role in the world?” Mr. McCain said.
Mr. Powell said critics who question the nominee’s willingness to project American military might around the world should remember who won the presidential election.
“I’m still a Republican,” Mr. Powell said, but “it’s ‘President Obama.’ Not ‘President McCain’ and not ‘President [Mitt] Romney.’ [Republicans] have lost two elections. The American people have made it clear that they are not particularly interested in finding new conflicts to get into.”
Many Republican troubles can be traced to the party’s contentious relationship with minority voters, said the retired four-star Army general and the nation’s first black secretary of state.
“There’s a dark vein of intolerance in some parts of the party,” he said, citing what he contends were racially tinged comments about Mr. Obama last fall from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former New Hampshire Gov. John H. Sununu.
Mrs. Palin in October described Mr. Obama’s handling of the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, as a “shuck-and-jive shtick,” and Mr. Sununu raised eyebrows the same month when he described the president’s poor first debate performance as “lazy.”