The Cable

Obama expected to pick Hagel as opponents prepare for a fight

President Barack Obama is expected to name Chuck Hagel as his choice for defense secretary as early as Monday, as critics of the former Nebraska senator prepare to go to war to fight his expected nomination. White House officials and sources close to Hagel declined to confirm to The Cable that Hagel is the president’s ...

Alex Wong/Getty Images
Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Barack Obama is expected to name Chuck Hagel as his choice for defense secretary as early as Monday, as critics of the former Nebraska senator prepare to go to war to fight his expected nomination.

White House officials and sources close to Hagel declined to confirm to The Cable that Hagel is the president’s choice to be the replace Leon Panetta at the helm of the Pentagon, but several sources close to the process said have told The Cable that the White House and Hagel have been in touch on a regular basis and that Hagel is indeed the expected pick. Decisions about the timing and logistics of the announcement are being finalized now.

The Cable had previously confirmed that Hagel successfully complete the vetting process, as have Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter and former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy.

Meanwhile, Hagel’s detractors are moving forward with their campaign against the nomination, which has been expanding ever since The Cable first reported in November that Hagel was in consideration for the Pentagon post. That campaign has included anonymous Senate aides calling Hagel an anti-Semite, the Washington Post editorial board writing that, "Chuck Hagel is not the right choice for defense secretary," and the Emergency Committee for Israel, which counts among its board members Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, running a television ad criticizing Hagel’s opposition to unilateral sanctions against Iran. "For secretary of defense, Chuck Hagel is not a responsible option," the ad claims.

"Even if one left aside Chuck Hagel’s dangerous views on Iran and his unpleasant distaste for Israel and Jews, a dispassionate analyst would have to conclude that the case for Hagel is extraordinarily weak," Kristol wrote in an editorial Friday, in which he urged Obama to choose Carter, Flournoy, or Navy Secretary Ray Mabus.

The Log Cabin Republicans took out a full page ad in the New York Times to oppose the potential Hagel nomination. Following the publication of the ad, the leader of the group, R. Clarke Cooper, resigned in what he stated was a previously planned departure. He had previously expressed support for Hagel. Cooper and Hagel are both combat veterans.

Three Senate Republicans have come out firmly against Hagel’s potential nomination, Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX), Dan Coats (R-IN), and Tom Coburn (R-OK). Cornyn said he can’t vote for Hagel due to Hagel’s "problem with Israel." Coats said Hagel "has had so much disrespect for the military." Coburn said Hagel "does not have the experience to manage a very large organization like the Pentagon."

Other GOP senators have expressed reservations about Hagel without committing to a no vote. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who previously praised Hagel as a close and dear friend, suggested recently that Hagel is not a real Republican. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), said on Fox News Sunday, "There would be very little Republican support for his nomination. At the end of the day, there will be very few votes."

Today’s Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) gave the following statement about the potential Hagel nomination to The Cable:

"I appreciate and respect Senator Hagel’s record of service to our country, especially as a decorated combat veteran," Kirk said. "While he has not yet been nominated, I am concerned about his past record and statements, particularly with regard to Iran and the U.S.-Israel relationship. Should he be nominated to serve as Secretary of Defense, I will join my colleagues on both sides of the aisle in a rigorous examination of these and other issues of concern." 

Hagel’s supporters, a loose conglomerate of former staffers and friends, have been working hard to defend Hagel from the onslaught of criticism, despite a lack of White House support that would come if the nomination materializes. They point out that Hagel is a decorated Vietnam veteran who served as the deputy administrator of the Veterans Administration during the Reagan administration and as the head of the USO. Hagel also co-authored the 9/11 GI bill as a senator.

They also note he has served in many private and public sector management roles, including as  chief of staff to Rep. John Y. McCollister (R-NE),  deputy commissioner general of the United States for the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee, and chief operating officer of the 1990 Economic Summit of Industrialized Nations (G-7 Summit) in Houston, Texas.

Hagel has also been president and CEO of the Private Sector Council, a nonprofit organization formed to assist federal government agencies, chairman of the Atlantic Council, a non-partisan think tank, co-founder and president of Collins, Hagel & Clarke, a marketing and communications firm, co-founder of Vanguard Cellular Systems Inc., one of the nation’s first non-wire cellular telephone carriers, and president of McCarthy & Co., an investment banking firm in Omaha, Nebraska.

Hagel is also currently co-chairman of Obama’s Intelligence Advisory Board, a member of the secretary of defense’s Policy Advisory Board, and chairman of the Vietnam Veteran War Commemoration Advisory Committee.

A bipartisan group of former senators and national security officials wrote to Obama last week to express support for Hagel’s nomination. That letter was signed by former Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci, former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, and others.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan Ryan Crocker also weighed in this week in support of a Hagel pick.

"Mr. Hagel would run the Defense Department; it would not run him," Crocker wrote in the Wall Street Journal. "And as America’s wars abroad wind down, it is clear from his record of service to veterans — and his own experience as one of them — that they would receive the support they deserve after they have put their lives on the line for the country."

 Twitter: @joshrogin
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