Republicans are suspicious of John O. Brennan’s refusal to link the words “Islamic” and “terrorism” in the same breath as President Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser.
Democrats complain that he supported torture against suspected terrorists when he served in the CIA during the George W. Bush administration.
The bipartisan criticism is likely to foreshadow a contentious confirmation battle when Mr. Obama’s nominee to lead the CIA faces the Senate intelligence committee.
Mr. Brennan’s purging of the phrase “Islamic terrorism” concerns conservatives who think it shows political correctness on the part of the Obama administration, said James J. Carafano, a counterterrorism scholar at the conservative Heritage Foundation.
“His answer to the battle of ideas is not to fight it, basically,” he said.
From the left, some Democrats are uneasy because of Mr. Brennan’s position with the CIA during the Bush administration when he was in charge of a program that subjected terrorist suspects to harsh interrogation techniques such as waterboarding.
“The [Senate Select] Committee [on Intelligence] will have the chance to ask him about his role during the era of secret prisons, rendition and torture,” said Laura W. Murphy, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington legislative office.
Until all of those questions are answered, she said, “The Senate should not move forward with his nomination.”
“John is legendary even in the White House” for his long hours, said Mr. Obama.
Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and a longtime critic of the harsh questioning of prisoners, said he has “many questions and concerns about [Mr. Brennan‘s] nomination … especially what role he played in the so-called enhanced-interrogation programs while serving at the CIA during the last administration, as well as his public defense of those programs.”
Four years ago, Mr. Brennan was first mentioned as a possible CIA chief when he headed Mr. Obama’s national-security transition team. He withdrew his name from consideration after a wave of liberal Democratic criticism over his role in the Bush administration’s war on terrorism.
In a Nov. 25, 2008, letter to President-elect Obama, Mr. Brennan said he opposed the use of waterboarding but was withdrawing his name because the controversy had become a “distraction from the vital work that lays ahead.”
Mr. Brennan, who moved from the CIA during the Bush administration to head the National Counterterrorism Center, said in the letter that his career had suffered over his criticism of the interrogation policies.