Former US senator Chuck Hagel (R) walks past US President
Barack Obama after Obama announced the nomination of Hagel
to be his new Secretary of Defence, at the White House in
Washington. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
US President Barack Obama has nominated former Republican
senator Chuck Hagel as his next defence secretary and
counterterrorism adviser John Brennan to head the CIA,
potentially setting up a Senate confirmation battle on two
fronts and establishing a tough tone to start his second term.
Mindful of the concerns about both Hagel and Brennan on
Capitol Hill, Obama spoke at length about each in a White
House ceremony, then turned over the microphone to outgoing
Defence Secretary Leon Panetta and acting CIA Director Mike
Morell to provide testimonials about their chosen
Obama urged the Senate to move quickly in confirming Hagel, a
military veteran who served in Vietnam, and Brennan, who
spent 25 years at the CIA.
"I hope that the Senate will act on these confirmations
promptly. When it comes to national security, we don't like
to leave a lot of gaps between the time that one set of
leaders transitions out and another transitions in. So we
need to get moving quickly on this," Obama said.
If confirmed by the Democratic-controlled Senate, Hagel and
Brennan would fill out a national security team that Obama is
building for his second term in office. He has already
nominated Democratic Senator John Kerry as his secretary of
state to replace the well-regarded Hillary Clinton.
Hagel clearly faces the toughest fight.
While senators are normally inclined to give the benefit of
the doubt to someone from their ranks, this was not the case
with Hagel, a maverick former senator from Nebraska.
As Hagel's name was floated for the post in recent weeks,
many Republicans and some Democrats reacted with alarm,
expressing deep concerns about past statements the moderate
Republican has made. He has offered controversial views on
key US ally Israel, once complaining about the power of "the
Jewish lobby" in Washington and urging direct talks with Iran
over its nuclear ambitions.
Past remarks seen as disparaging to gays have drawn the ire
of gay rights groups. A group called the Log Cabin
Republicans published a full-page ad in The Washington Post
that attacked "Chuck Hagel's record on gay rights."
Obama could also face opposition from human rights groups
over his choice of Brennan, a CIA veteran who withdrew from
consideration for the spy agency's top job in 2008 after
questions were raised about his views on "enhanced
interrogation techniques" - which are widely considered to be
torture - that were used on terrorism suspects during the
Brennan would succeed retired General David Petraeus, who
resigned in November after he was brought down by a sex
scandal that involved an extramarital affair with his