Later today, President Obama will nominate former Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel for head of the Defense Department, and Counterterrorism Adviser John Brennan to lead the CIA, according to White House officials.
The centrist Republican’s nomination for Defense has been expected for weeks in Washington, D.C. and has drawn ire from the left and right alike: many conservatives oppose Hagel’s positions on U.S.-Israel relations, the ability to contain a nuclear Iran, and the need to downsize the Defense Department and feel he abandoned his own party to curry favor with the Obama White House; while key Democrats have taken issue with anti-gay comments Hagel made in 1998, and walked back only recently.
Some nonpartisan observers wonder why Obama would pick Hagel over Defense insiders such as Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, a plausible heir to the throne, or Michele Flournoy, who left a prominent position within the department to help found the prestigious Center for Strategic and International Studies.
It’s clear that Hagel will have a challenging series of confirmation hearings ahead of him: a series of lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have come forward in recent weeks to express doubt about his qualifications and positions.
Most recently, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) expressed his own doubts about Hagel’s eligibility to head the Defense Department. McConnell told ABC’s This Week Sunday that he wasn’t ready to confirm Hagel without learning more about his positions in the confirmation process.
“I’m going to wait and see how the hearings go and see whether Chuck’s views square with the job he would be nominated to do,” McConnell said.
A less politically fraught confirmation process will be that of Brennan, slated to replace former CIA director David Petraeus, who resigned his position amid scandal as the news broke that he had been carrying on an affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell. Brennan has 25 years in the CIA to his credit and has bipartisan service on his resume, having led the National Counterterrorism Center under former president George W. Bush.
It’s not clear yet when the confirmation hearings will begin.