Congressional aide says Obama to name former Senator Hagel for defense secretary

Congressional aide says Obama to name former Senator Hagel for defense secretaryRepublican senators voice opposition to nomination of former colleagueHagel will likely face questions over his 'anti-Israel' views'He would be the most antagonistic secretary of defense toward Israel in our nation's history'

By
Daily Mail Reporter

PUBLISHED:

17:16 GMT, 6 January 2013

|

UPDATED:

12:46 GMT, 7 January 2013

President Barack Obama will today nominate
the controversial former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel to be his defense secretary, a congressional Democratic aide has revealed.

Republican lawmakers swiftly criticised the nomination of their divisive former colleague, a two-term Nebraska senator who served on the foreign relations and intelligence committees.

Sen. Lindsay Graham from South Carolina said that it would 'probably be a bridge too far' for him to back Hagel, a Vietnam veteran who initially voted for the Iraq war but loudly grew to oppose it and support Obama for president in 2008.

The choice will likely set up a
confirmation battle in the Senate over whether Hagel strongly supports key U.S. ally Israel after he previously called for negotiations with the Palestinian organization Hamas.

Controversial choice: President Barack Obama will nominate former Nebraska Republican Senator Chuck Hagel to be his defense secretary, and an announcement could come on Monday

Controversial choice: President Barack Obama will nominate former Nebraska Republican Senator Chuck Hagel to be his defense secretary, and an announcement could come on Monday

Hagel, 66, also has been criticized for comments he made questioning the effectiveness of sanctions on Iran for its nuclear program.

'Chuck Hagel, if confirmed to be the secretary of defense, would be the most antagonistic secretary of defense toward the state of Israel in our nation's history,' Sen. Graham told CNN on Sunday.

'Not only has he said you should directly negotiate with Iran, sanctions won't work, that Israel should directly negotiate with the Hamas organization – a terrorist group that lobs thousands of rockets into Israel – he also was one of 12 senators who refused to sign a letter to the European Union that Hezbollah should be designated as a terrorist organization.'

Republican Sen. John Cornyn from Texas also had disparaging words for Hagel, saying in a statement that he will not support the nomination as his 'record and past statements, particularly with respect to rogue nations like Iran, are extremely concerning to me'.

'As Iran becomes increasingly hostile and gains influence in the region, the worst possible message we could send to our friend Israel and the rest of our allies in the Middle East is Chuck Hagel,' he added.

It comes after the Obama
administration backed down from a tough Senate confirmation battle over
Susan Rice, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations who was Obama's
first pick to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state.

Divisive: Republican lawmakers have spoken out against the appointment of their former colleague

Divisive: Republican lawmakers have spoken out against the appointment of their former colleague

Rice withdrew her name from
consideration after drawing heavy fire from Republicans for remarks she
made in the aftermath of a September 11 attack on the U.S. mission in
Benghazi, Libya.

'The administration has a lot of work
to do on Hagel. He is in a weaker position now than Rice ever was
because Rice would have rallied Democrats behind her,' a Senate
Democratic aide said.

'The worst possible message we could send to our friend Israel and the rest of our allies in the Middle East is Chuck Hagel'Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas

'The administration floated Hagel's
name, then neglected to defend him effectively when his critics started
taking shots,' the aide said.

'I think there will be a lot of tough questions for Sen. Hagel,' Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., added to NBC, 'but he will be treated fairly by Republicans in the Senate. I think he'll be subjected to the same kind of oversight hearings that any nominee for such an important position would expect.'

McConnell added his 'views with regard to Israel, for example, and Iran and all the other positions that he's taken over the years will be very much a matter of discussion in the confirmation process.'

Last month Obama offered strong
support for Hagel as a possible replacement for Defense Secretary Leon
Panetta, who had said he wanted 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 NBC's 'Meet the Press' on December 30.