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. Obama named Mr. Brennan on Monday to replace David H. Petraeus, the retired four-star general who resigned as CIA chief in November after confessing to an adulterous affair.
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."
In his announcement Monday, Mr. Obama praised the "incredible" work ethic of Mr. Brennan, a 25-year CIA veteran and Arabic-speaking Middle East specialist.
"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.
"I was twice considered for more senior-level positions in the … [Bush] administration, only to be rebuffed by the White House," he wrote.
Ms. Murphy expressed her skepticism.
"If he opposed the policies, what did he do about it?" she asked. "This should not be a rubber-stamp nomination."
Other lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are concerned about CIA drone attacks on suspected terrorists, including American citizens abroad, that Mr. Brennan has overseen at the White House, massively expanding the Bush administration program.
Ms. Murphy said she hopes the intelligence committee will use the confirmation process to learn more about the legal basis for the Obama administration's conclusion that it had the authority to kill suspected terrorists without charge or trial.
"They have to lift the shroud of secrecy," she said. "Americans deserve to understand what this program is based on.
"Given the growth of paramilitary activities by the CIA during the Obama administration, this ought to be an opportunity to question the issues, not just this individual."
Ms. Murphy suggested that Mr. Brennan might be shielded from tough Republican scrutiny because of his service in the Bush administration, but Mr. Carafano, the Heritage scholar, disagreed.
"He actually has a long track record within the [Obama] administration … that he'll be held accountable for," he said.
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