Senior Armed Services Committee member joins Hagel opposition

Add Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker to the growing tally of senators opposing Chuck Hagel, Obama’s planned nominee for Secretary of Defense.

With the nomination to be announced later Monday according to White House officials, Wicker, a senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, says he can’t support Hagel’s bid for the office.

“I am strongly opposed to the President???s nomination of Sen. Hagel,” Wicker said in a morning release. “It would be divisive and distracting for Congress, the Administration, and the American people.”

Wicker called Hagel’s continued opposition to economic sanctions on Iran “troubling” and said his positions on the Middle East and Israel ran contrary even to those set forth by the administration.

???The President is choosing a fight rather than nominating a consensus pick,” Wicker said.  “With sequestration???s defense cuts averted for only two months, this will take attention away from very pressing problems.  Sec. Panetta was approved unanimously by the Senate.  The President would be wise to nominate someone else for this critical position.???

 Apart from Wicker, the strongest opposition to Hagel on the Republican side has come from Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas).

As a member of the committee responsible for holding Hagel’s confirmation hearing, Wicker is positioned to lead a charge against Hagel among committee Republicans. It also further signals the full-bore fight to confirm Hagel on the horizon: Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) has voiced emphatic support for the prospective nominee.