Hagel’s successful nomination would add a well-known Republican to the president’s second-term Cabinet at a time when he is looking to better bridge the partisan divide, particularly after a bitter election campaign.
But the expected nomination has drawn sharp criticism in recent weeks, particularly from Republicans, who have questioned Hagel’s commitment to Israel’s security.
The choice sets up a confirmation fight of the sort that Obama appeared unwilling to have over Susan E. Rice, his preferred pick for secretary of state. Rice pulled out of consideration for that job last month after facing sharp Republican criticism about her characterization of the September attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
In an appearance Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) called Hagel’s selection an “in-your-face nomination.”
But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Hagel’s record would be given a fair shake in the Senate if he is nominated. McConnell stopped short of saying whether he would support his former colleague.
“He’s certainly been outspoken in foreign policy and defense over the years,” McConnell said on ABC’s “This Week.” He added: “The question we’ll be answering, if he’s the nominee, is: Do his views make sense for that particular job? I think he ought to be given a fair hearing, like any other nominee. And he will be.”
The Hagel nomination will begin what White House officials have said will probably be a busy week of announcements about who will fill Obama’s second-term Cabinet and senior staff positions.
The president returned Sunday from a curtailed holiday in Hawaii and will begin making final personnel decisions that were delayed by the year-end negotiations with Congress over taxes and spending cuts.
Foreign policy tussle
Despite the opposition to a Hagel nomination that has arisen on Capitol Hill, a senior administration official said Sunday that the White House expects him to receive the support of Democrats, as well as many Republicans who served with him.
“Having a name floated and having one officially put forward are two different things,” the official said.
Hagel, who was twice awarded the Purple Heart for wounds suffered in Vietnam, served in the Senate for two terms, ending in 2009.
He was an outspoken and often independent voice as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, breaking with many in his party to sharply criticize the management of the Iraq war after he initially supported the U.S.-led invasion.