President Obama did what everyone had expected for weeks when he nominated former U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., to lead the Defense Department and allow Leon Panetta to return to his California walnut farm.
Obama waited until the fiscal cliff showdown ended to announce his nomination Monday and end the speculation over whether Obama would follow through on his interest in Hagel that had leaked out from the White House.
The White House’s leak is a common practice ahead of a cabinet nomination. The president’s staff gauges the response it will get and what type of battle they will receive to have the nominee confirmed. Some expected Hagel to receive a clear path considering he nominee considers himself a Republican.
However, Hagel is not in lock step with the GOP. He was known for blasting the Bush administration’s justification for the Iraq invasion. He’s most recently been labeled an enemy of Israel by certain Republican leaders. U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called Obama’s selection of Hagel “antagonistic” towards Israel’s leadership.
Senate Republicans will use the confirmation hearing to question Hagel on his record of voting for negotiations with Hamas and his votes against Iran sanctions. The pro-Israel lobby has already expressed their displeasure with Obama’s nomination.
If confirmed, Hagel would be one of the first former Army enlisted men to head the Defense Department. He fought in the Vietnam War and has used that experience in questioning defense leaders as a former member of the Foreign Relations Committee. Hagel made enemies in his own party when he ripped the Bush administration for how they allowed the insurgency to take root in Iraq.
Hagel still has a piece of shrapnel in his chest from an exploded Claymore in Vietnam where he earned two Purple Hearts. Obama’s nomination comes as the number of lawmakers in DC with military experience has hit a recent low.
Speculation on the Senate’s confirmation vote will continue ahead of the hearing. It’s also to be expected that one or more senators will try to block the nomination to gain the political exposure it creates.
Neither Obama nor Hagel said anything new during the nomination ceremony at the White House. One thing was clear, though. Panetta is eager to return to California as he said he’s ready to “deal with a different set of nuts.”