December 19, 2012

Hagel considered for defense secretary; some Republicans concerned

President Obama is considering Republican Chuck Hagel, a Vietnam war hero, to run the Pentagon, but people in Hagel's own party are expressing concerns.

The Associated Press

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This Nov. 1, 2012, file photo shows former Nebraska Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel speaking in Omaha, Neb. President Barack Obama's possible pick of Republican Chuck Hagel to run the Pentagon raises serious concerns among some of his former Senate colleagues, who question his pronouncements on Iraq, Israel and the Middle East. The reservations publicly expressed by a few Republicans and even a Democrat hardly rival the unyielding GOP objections to U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, who withdrew from consideration last week for secretary of state in the face of relentless attacks mostly over her public statements about the Sept. 11 assault on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Opponents have pointed to his votes against sanctions on Iran and circulated letters that Hagel signed and ones he declined to add his name to, many of those favored by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the powerful pro-Israel lobby. In August 2006, Hagel refused to sign a letter pressing the European Union to declare Hezbollah a terrorist organization, one of 12 senators who balked. In 2007, he sent a letter to Bush urging talks with Iran.

Proponents counter by pointing to Senate votes for U.S. aid to Israel and his backing for sanctions on Iran.

"The appointment of Chuck Hagel would be a slap in the face for every American who is concerned about the safety of Israel," said Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition.

In an interview with Aaron David Miller for his 2008 book, "The Much Too Promised Land: America's Elusive Search for Arab-Israeli Peace," Hagel said: "I'm not an Israeli senator. I'm a United States senator. I support Israel, but my first interest is I take an oath of office to the Constitution of the United States, not to a president, not to a party, not to Israel. If I go run for Senate in Israel, I'll do that."

Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said Hagel was a "very good colleague to work with," but added that "I have disagreements with him on a number of issues. But let's wait and see if he's nominated and then we'll get to those questions."

Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who was elected in 1996, the same year as Hagel, said his comments "on Israel, Hamas and Iran do deserve explanation at a nomination hearing and I'm sure that would happen. He's well known to many of us, but I think those issues are ones that are likely to come up and should come up."

Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, who is in line to become the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, said he served with Hagel for two years but was reserving judgment.

"Look I happen to be somebody who values independence," Corker said. "My value of independence would offset other transgressions."

At least two other candidates remain under serious consideration — former top Pentagon official Michele Flournoy and Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter. At least two or three other candidates are being discussed at the White House to a lesser degree, according to a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the White House does not comment on Obama's personnel deliberations.

As for timing, no announcement is expected Thursday, and Friday is increasingly unlikely with services for the late Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, at Washington National Cathedral. The presidential decision will not come until after the review of at least one candidate is complete, and the timing of the announcement itself will depend on other factors, including the consuming talks with Republicans in Congress over how to avoid the so-called "fiscal cliff" before Jan. 1.

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