WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama’s pick to be defense secretary is unsuited to head the Pentagon, but Republican senators should stop stalling the nomination and allow a vote on Chuck Hagel, a leading opponent said Sunday.
“No, I don’t believe he’s qualified,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. “But I don’t believe that we should hold up his nomination any further, because I think it’s (been) a reasonable amount to time to have questions answered.”
Republicans have angered Obama by delaying the formation of his second-term national security team, which includes Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska, and John Brennan, the president’s top counterterrorism adviser who’s awaiting confirmation as CIA director.
Critics contend that Hagel, who supported Obama over McCain in the 2008 presidential race, isn’t supportive enough of Israel and is unreasonably sympathetic to Iran. The nomination also became entangled in Republican lawmakers’ questioning of how the White House handled the Sept. 11 attack against a U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya.
Republican senators also have challenged his past statements and votes on nuclear weapons, and his criticism of the President George W. Bush’s administration lingers.
Republicans last week held up a confirmation vote but have indicated that they eventually would relent and permit a vote when they return from their break on Feb. 25.
Obama’s chief of staff, Denis McDonough, said Hagel, a Vietnam combat veteran, was the right person to lead the Pentagon, and “has one thing in mind: How do we protect the country?”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, who’s led the opposition with McCain to Hagel’s nomination, said critics were “doing our job to scrutinize … one of the most unqualified, radical choices for secretary of defense in a very long time.”
“But at the end of the day,” said Graham, R-S.C., “this is the president’s decision. I give him great discretion. I can’t believe one Democratic colleague is not upset by this choice enough to speak out.”
Graham referred to a letter he received from Hagel in response to questions about past statements on Israel, and the senator said, “I’ll just take him at his word, unless something new comes along.”
McDonough was on ABC’s “This Week,” while McCain spoke on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and Graham was interviewed on “Fox News Sunday.”