As has been widely predicted, White House sources say that President Obama will announce his selection of former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel as the next secretary of Defense on Monday. Hagel, a Republican, has detractors on both sides of the aisle, and his confirmation ride will likely be a bumpy one. LGBT activists have not forgotten about his 1998 objection to an “aggressively gay” ambassador, while pro-Israel groups don’t appreciate his repeated observations about the “Jewish lobby” and its “intimidation” of lawmakers. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham called Hagel an “in-your-face” pick on CNN’s State of the Union this morning and predicted that “he would be the most antagonistic secretary of defense towards the state of Israel in our nation’s history.” He also said he wouldn’t rule out a filibuster of the nomination.
Senator Ted Cruz seemed similarly incensed on Fox News Sunday, where he accused Obama of recklessly ignoring bipartisan criticisms of Hagel. “This is a president who has drunk the tea,” said the Texas Republican. “He’s high on reelection right now.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was a bit gentler on ABC’s This Week, though he did say that he had a lot of “tough questions” about Hagel’s views on Israel, as well as his past opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and sanctions on Iran.
Of course, Obama has prepared for all this. Hagel would be the first enlisted soldier to become secretary of Defense, and the White House is eager to point to the “decorated Vietnam veteran” part of his resume as evidence of his specific fitness for the role. “[Hagel] had the courage to break with his party during the Iraq War, and would help bring the war in Afghanistan to an end while building the military we need for the future,” said a White House aide who was kind enough to preview the administration’s talking points on the appointment. “He has been a champion for troops, veterans and military families through his service at the VA and USO, and his leadership on behalf of the post-9/11 GI Bill. The president knows him well, has traveled with him to Iraq and Afghanistan, trusts him and believes he represents the proud tradition of a strong, bipartisan foreign policy in the United States.” And so it (almost officially) begins.