With the nominations of former Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., to be the next Secretary of Defense, and White House Chief Counterterrorism Adviser John Brennan to be the next director of the Central Intelligence Agency, President Obama is two steps closer to filling his second term cabinet.
“The work of defending our nation is never done,” Obama said in a press conference Monday announcing the nominees. “My criteria was simple—who is going to do the best job protecting America? I’m confident Chuck Hagel and John Brennan will do an outstanding job. And I urge congress to confirm them as soon as possible so that we can keep America safe.”
Obama noted that Hagel will be the first person of enlisted rank to serve as Defense Secretary, as well as the first Vietnam War veteran, and one of just a few secretaries to be injured in combat.
“As I saw during our visits together to Afghanistan and Iraq, in Chuck Hagel our troops see a decorated combat veteran of character and strength. They see one of their own,” Obama said.
Hagel, a Republican, is poised to meet defiance from his own party. Republican lawmakers, some of them former colleagues of Hagel’s in the Senate, are signaling a fierce confirmation battle ahead, pointing to his comments criticizing the “Jewish lobby” and his votes against Iran sanctions. Gay-rights groups have voiced opposition over comments Hagel made 15 years ago opposing a Bill Clinton-nominated ambassador whom he called “openly aggressively gay.” Hagel later apologized for those comments.
Yet President Obama hailed Hagel’s bipartisan appeals and centrist views as an asset in the new administration. “Chuck represents the bipartisan tradition that we need more of in Washington. For his independence and commitment to consensus, he’s earned the respect of national security and military leaders, Republicans and Democrats, including me. In the Senate, I came to admire his courage and his judgment, his willingness to speak his mind, even if it wasn’t popular, even if it defied the conventional wisdom,” Obama said.
Brennan, a 25-year CIA veteran, will take over for retired General David Petraeus, who abruptly resigned from the C.I.A. when an affair with his biographer became public last fall.
Brennan was under consideration for the top Agency post in 2008, but withdrew from consideration after it became apparent that his connection to the George W. Bush administration’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” would hurt his prospects.
He sent a letter to Obama at the time saying he was “a strong opponent of many of the policies of the policies of the Bush administration, such as the preemptive war in Iraq and coercive interrogation tactics, to include water-boarding.” He served as Chief of Staff to then-CIA director George Tenet from 1999-2001 and later as the first director of the National Counterterrorism Center.
Obama praised Brennan as one of the hardest-working public servants he had ever seen. “I’m not sure he’s slept in four years,” Obama said.