Hagel is in for tough challenge to lead the Pentagon

Republicans vow queries on Israel

As White House officials confirmed Sunday that the president plans to nominate Chuck Hagel on Monday as Pentagon chief, Republicans made it clear that the former senator from Nebraska will face a tough confirmation battle.

“I’m very inclined not to support him based on his antagonistic approach to Israel,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“This is an in-your-face nomination by the president to all of us who are supportive of Israel,” said Mr. Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee in which President Obama’s nominee is likely to face a contentious confirmation hearing.

But after scuttling the nomination of U.N. Ambassador Susan E. Rice as secretary of state last month to avoid a bruising confirmation fight with Senate Republicans, the Obama administration seems more intent on standing its ground in naming a replacement for outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta.

In an interview that aired Dec. 31 on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Mr. Obama called Mr. Hagel “a patriot” who “has done extraordinary work” in the Senate and on an intelligence advisory board.

On Sunday, Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking Senate Democrat, told “State of the Union” that Mr. Hagel “is a serious candidate if the president chooses to name him.”

But other Republicans joined Mr. Graham in questioning the pick — or rejecting the former senator outright.
The second-ranking Senate Republican, John Cornyn of Texas, said in a statement that making Mr. Hagel defense secretary would be “the worst possible message we could send to our friend Israel and the rest of our allies in the Middle East.”

Mr. Cornyn did not say whether he would try to block a Hagel nomination.

On “Fox News Sunday,” the other senator from Texas, freshman Ted Cruz, said U.S. enemies such as Iran would welcome a Hagel nomination.

“If you are an Iranian mullah right now and you’re looking at a Chuck Hagel, who thinks that sanctions are too harsh, you’ve got to be laughing,” the freshman Republican said.

“If Hagel is nominated, it is very difficult to imagine the circumstance in which I could support his confirmation.”
The Texan said a Hagel nomination, over the objections of key lawmakers, was an indication that Mr. Obama has misread the results of Election Day and thinks he faces no opposition on Capitol Hill.

“This is a president who has drunk the tea. He’s high on re-election right now,” Mr. Cruz said.

Mr. Obama returned to Washington on Sunday from his family vacation in Hawaii and is expected to make the Hagel announcement official Monday.

Although Mr. Hagel has come under considerable criticism from pro-Israel liberals for remarks about “the Jewish lobby” and Middle East politics, no Democratic senator has said he would oppose a Hagel nomination.

Still, when asked about a hypothetical Hagel nomination last month on “Meet the Press,” Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York, a strongly pro-Israel Democrat, ducked the question, contrary to his usual blunt style.

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