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Obama defends Chuck Hagel

President Obama defended former Nebraska Republican senator Chuck Hagel in an interview that aired on Sunday morning, praising the man reportedly under consideration to be the next secretary of defense. 

"Not that I see," Obama said in an interview on NBC News's "Meet The Press" when asked by host David Gregory is there is anything that would disqualify the former senator from running the Defense Department. "I've served with Chuck Hagel. I know him. He is a patriot. He is somebody who has done extraordinary work both in the United States Senate. Somebody who served this country with valor in Vietnam. And is somebody who's currently serving on my intelligence advisory board and doing an outstanding job."

Hagel has come under criticism from gay rights activists for comments he made in 1998. At the time, Hagel said an  “openly aggressively gay” diplomat might be an ineffective representative of American values.

The former senator recently retracted the remark, prompting the nation's largest gay rights group to express its appreciation. Obama, who emphasized that he has not made a decision about who he will nominate to be the next secretary of defense, noted Hagel's apology.

"With respect to the particular comment that you quoted, he apologized for it," Obama said. "And I think it's a testimony to what has been a positive change over the last decade in terms of people's attitudes about gays and lesbians serving our country.  And that's something that I'm very proud to have led.  And I think that anybody who serves in my administration understands my attitude and position on those issues."

Republican senators have also argued Hagel would face a tough conformation process in the upper chamber. Hagel has stoked GOP anger with his opposition to the war in Iraq as and his recent endorsements of Democrats in competitive races, among other things. 

Obama was also asked whether he left United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice to "hang out there to dry a little bit" in the aftermath of the attack on a U.S. diplomatic post in Libya that left four Americans dead. 

"No," responded Obama. "First of all, I think I was very clear throughout that Susan has been an outstanding U.N. ambassador for the United States.  She appeared on a number of television shows reporting what she and we understood to be the best information at the time. This was a politically motivated attack on her.  I mean of all the people in my national security team she probably had the least to do with anything that happened in Benghazi."


Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.

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