President Barack Obama offered strong support for former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel as the potential next U.S. defense secretary but said in remarks aired on Sunday that he had not yet decided on a nominee for the Pentagon post.
Hagel is considered a leading candidate to replace outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, but the former Nebraska lawmaker has come under criticism for his record on Israel and for a comment that being gay was an inhibiting factor for being an ambassador.
“I’ve served with Chuck Hagel. I know him. He is a patriot. He is somebody who has done extraordinary work both in the United States Senate, somebody who served this country with valor in Vietnam,” Obama told NBC’s “Meet the Press” in an interview taped on Saturday and broadcast on Sunday.
Any nomination for defense secretary must be approved by the Senate where some lawmakers have voiced criticism about their former colleague.
“I think a lot of Republicans and Democrats are very concerned about Chuck Hagel’s positions on Iran sanctions, his views toward Israel, Hamas and Hezbollah, and that there is wide and deep concern about his policies. All of us like him as a person,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said.
“There would be very little Republican support for his nomination, at the end of the day, there will be very few votes,” Graham said on Fox News Sunday.
Republican Senator Tom Coburn from Oklahoma said bluntly: “I cannot vote for Chuck Hagel.”