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In recent weeks a number of prominent Republicans have said they would oppose Hagel’s nomination. On Sunday, Republican lawmakers made clear he would face a tough nomination process.
“This is an in-your-face nomination by the president to all of us who are supportive of Israel,” South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“I don’t know what his management experience is regarding the Pentagon, little, if any, so I think it’s an incredibly controversial choice.”
Many Republicans contend that Hagel, who left the Senate in 2008, at times opposed Israel’s interests. He voted several times against U.S. sanctions on Iran, and made disparaging remarks about the influence of what he called a “Jewish lobby” in Washington.
Hagel has also been critical of the size of the American military, telling the Financial Times in 2011 that the Defense Department was “bloated” and needed “to be pared down.”
An editorial in The Washington Post last month said that given the scale of the cuts Hagel seeks, he was “not the right choice” for defense secretary.
Senate minority Leader Mitch McConnell said “there would be a lot of tough questions of Senator Hagel.”
“But he will be treated fairly by Republicans in the Senate,” the Kentucky Republican told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Hagel has also been attacked by gay rights groups for remarks in 1998 questioning whether an “openly aggressively gay” nominee could be an effective U.S. ambassador. He apologized for the comments last month saying they were “insensitive.”
If confirmed, Hagel would become the first former enlisted soldier to lead the Pentagon. He served alongside his brother Tom in Vietnam, and they earned five Purple Hearts between them.
Senator Heidi Heitkamp, a North Dakota Democrat, said the way Hagel had been targeted was not fair.
“He hasn’t had a chance to speak for himself,” she said on ABC’s “This Week. “Why all the pre-judging, I don’t know.”
OBAMA’S TIES TO HAGEL
Last month Obama offered strong support for Hagel as a possible replacement for Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who has said he wants to leave early in the second term.
“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 “Meet the Press” on Dec. 30.
Obama and Hagel bonded over their shared opposition to the Iraq War. Obama rose to national prominence through his criticism of the war, while Hagel made himself an isolated figure in the Republican Party by taking a similar position. The pair traveled to Iraq together in 2008.
While Obama may hope that his choice of a Republican to lead the military would be seen as a gesture of bipartisanship, Hagel has been sharply critical of his own party since leaving the Senate in 2009. Last year, Hagel endorsed a Democratic candidate for the Senate in Nebraska.
In 2009, Republican former Vice President Dick Cheney told Newsweek: “Let’s say I believe firmly in Ronald Reagan’s 11th commandment: Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican. But it’s very hard sometimes to adhere to that where Chuck Hagel is involved.”