At first blush, former Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska seems an odd
pick for secretary of Defense.
He is a Republican, a point that frustrates Democrats who would
rather see one of their own in this key Cabinet slot. But, to many
Republicans, hes a RINO a Republican in Name Only owing in part to
his opposition to the Iraq war and to his general wariness toward
Mr. Hagel has also irritated Democrats with past anti-gay
comments (for which he has since apologized). And he has riled
members of both parties with his criticism of pro-Israel groups and
his stance toward Iran, including opposition to some sanctions.
In a way, Mr. Hagel is a man without a party. Many Washington
analysts predict a tough confirmation fight in the Senate.
But to President Obama, who announced Hagels selection Monday, he
is someone worth fighting for.
Chuck Hagel is the leader that our troops deserve, Mr. Obama
said. He is an American patriot.
Hagel would be the first enlisted man, and the first Vietnam
veteran, to head the Pentagon. He bears the scars and the shrapnel
from his military service, Obama noted. The president takes the man
without a party argument and turns it on its head, returning to his
first-term promise to rise above party politics.
Chuck represents the bipartisan tradition that we need more of in
Washington, Obama said. For his independence and commitment to
consensus, he's earned the respect of national security and military
leaders, Republicans and Democrats, including me.
Some Senate Democrats have endorsed Hagel, and at least three
Republican senators have come out against him, while others of both
parties have expressed skepticism. Democrats have a 55-45 majority
in the Senate, but Republicans could decide to filibuster which
would require 60 votes to overcome. And theres no guarantee that all
the Democrats vote with the president.
So why is Obama willing to have this fight, after watching one of
his top prospects for secretary of State UN Ambassador Susan Rice
remove her name from contention over what would have been a
contentious confirmation battle, had she been nominated? (Her
combative style and in particular misstatements about the Sept. 11
attack on the US mission in Benghazi, Libya, riled Republicans.)
Administration officials say Obama had not necessarily settled on
Ambassador Rice for State, but her withdrawal left the impression
that the presidents choice had been preemptively defeated. So it
may, in fact, be partly because of Rice that Obama is proceeding
with Hagel. The president does not want to look weak again.
He also expressed clear personal affection for Hagel in his
statement Monday. …