Obama chooses Hagel for defence job
on 06/01/2013 21:44:21
Mr Obama, who avoided a Senate confirmation battle by deciding not to nominate UN Ambassador Susan Rice as his first choice for secretary of state, went with Hagel, a decorated Vietnam combat veteran, even as leading Republicans announced their opposition, though they stopped short of saying they might try to block Hagel.
Seeking to soften the ground, the White House was alerting Senate Democrats that Hagel's selection as the successor to Defence Secretary Leon Panetta in Obama's second-term Cabinet was imminent, according to a congressional official.
Mr Obama, who returned to Washington today from his Hawaiian family holiday, was expected to nominate Hagel as early as tomorrow. Congress is still on a break this week.
Hagel, a moderate Republican, built a strong relationship with Obama during their travel as senators. But the former Nebraska lawmaker has faced withering criticism from Congress since emerging as the front-runner for the Pentagon post. In sticking with Hagel, Mr Obama appears willing to take on the fight.
Hagel is the second straight Obama favourite for a top national security post to face criticism from Capitol Hill even before being nominated. Rice withdrew her name from consideration for secretary of state amid charges from Republican senators that she misled the public in her initial accounting of the attacks on Americans at a diplomat post in Benghazi, Libya.
After Rice withdrew, Mr Obama named Democratic Sen John Kerry of Massachusetts to lead the State Department. Kerry is expected to be easily confirmed by his longtime senate colleagues.
If confirmed, Hagel would take over a Pentagon that faces budget cuts and a scaling back of the US-led war in Afghanistan. Afghan President Hamid Karzai is expected to meet with Mr Obama in Washington this week to discuss the US presence in Afghanistan after the war formally concludes at the end of 2014.
Hagel is likely to support a more rapid withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.
Mr Obama, in an interview that aired last week on NBC's "Meet the Press," called Hagel "a patriot" who "has done extraordinary work" in the Senate and on an intelligence advisory board.