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Obama to fill key posts in weeks, Hagel on Pentagon short list

Dec 4, 2012

(Reuters) - President Barack Obama is expected to announce his nominees for secretaries of state and defense in the next two weeks, with former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel on the short list of potential choices to head the Pentagon, senior administration officials said on Tuesday.

Hagel, whose appointment would give Obama's reshuffled second-term Cabinet a bipartisan cast, met the Democratic president at the White House this week to discuss a post on his national security team. But there was no sign that Obama had decided on any of the key nominations he will put forth.

Obama is still deliberating whether to unveil his top national security appointments, likely to include a new CIA director, in a single high-profile package this month or to name them one-by-one, according to an administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Other top contenders to replace Defense Secretary Leon Panetta are believed to include former senior Pentagon official Michele Flournoy, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Democratic Senator John Kerry.

Complicating matters, Obama is also deciding whether to nominate Kerry as secretary of state to replace Hillary Clinton, or to go with Susan Rice, embattled U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Rice is a long-time confidante of the president, but picking her would lead to a tough Senate confirmation battle over her comments in the wake of the killing of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya.

Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has coveted the job as America's top diplomat and would face a much smoother confirmation process if nominated. It is unclear, however, whether he would accept the Pentagon post instead.

If Obama nominates Kerry for State, he could the risk opening up a safe Democratic Senate seat in Massachusetts, which Senator Scott Brown, the Republican who just lost his seat to Elizabeth Warren, could run for in a special election.

Obama, in an interview with Bloomberg TV on Tuesday, reiterated that Rice is "highly qualified" for the job, but said, "I haven't made a decision about secretary of state."


Obama's choices for State and Defense will essentially set the tone for his administration's handling of a wide range of global issues in his second term, including Middle East upheaval, Iran's nuclear standoff with the West and efforts to wind down the war in Afghanistan.

With candidates still going through the vetting process, Obama is not expected to unveil his choices before next week, but he has every intention of making his announcements before the end of the year, the administration official said.

The choice of Hagel, a moderate on foreign policy who currently co-chairs Obama's Intelligence Advisory Board, would give the president a Republican in his Cabinet at a time when he is trying to win bipartisan cooperation from congressional Republicans on taxes and spending to avoid a looming "fiscal cliff."

It is also possible that Hagel's name was being floated to show Obama's willingness to reach across the aisle, even if he ultimately does not nominate him.

A social conservative and strong internationalist who co-chaired John McCain's failed Republican presidential campaign back in 2000, Hagel might seem an unlikely pick were it not for his dissent years ago on the Iraq war launched under former President George W. Bush, a Republican. That war was the issue on which Obama also rose to national prominence.

Hagel served two terms in the Senate, representing Nebraska, and left in 2008. He is a professor at Georgetown University.

Since he left the Senate, Hagel has been a big critic of his own party. He told the Financial Times newspaper in 2011 that he was "disgusted" by the "irresponsible actions" of Republicans during the debt ceiling debate.

Former President Bill Clinton chose former Republican Senator William Cohen to lead the Defense Department, and Obama kept Robert Gates, former President George W. Bush's last defense secretary, on board for the first part of his term.

by Anonymousreply 712/06/2012

Dreadful mistake. The Pentagon needs civilian control, not control by the military old boys' club who was given a million dollar corporate executive job when he left the Pentagon.

On the other hand, he may have no choice. Maybe Hagel promised not to steal the election in return for a position.

by Anonymousreply 112/05/2012

Hagel is already working for Obama in another capacity, and his wife voted for Obama.

I think Obama wants to show he can work with moderate Republicans like Hagel.

by Anonymousreply 212/05/2012

Congressional Republicans don't care how many RINOs Obama appoints to his cabinet. If Obama thinks they care about bipartisanship he's deluding himself.

by Anonymousreply 312/05/2012

Do you think non-congressional Republicans might care? Obama is done running for office himself, but there are still the 2014 mid-term elections to think of. If Republicans and independents see that Obama will work with the relatively sane Republicans in congress, might that not influence Republicans to vote for less extreme Republicans?

Seriously, I'm asking, not arguing. I can't claim that I understand Republican thinking.

by Anonymousreply 412/06/2012

You took the words right out my mouth r 4.

by Anonymousreply 512/06/2012

R4 I don't think they will care.

Most people pay very little attention to the nitty gritty details of administrations and how government actually functions. How many Americans can name even two or three cabinet secretaries and describe their responsibilities? Cabinet appointments don't show up on most people's radar.

Generally people are busy with their daily lives and what directly affects them. They care about having a job, being able to pay the bills, the lives of their kids, how their sports team doing, their favorite TV shows, etc. A gesture like naming a moderate Republican to a cabinet position isn't even going to register with most people.

But suppose Obama does name Chuck Hagel to a cabinet post. Wait a couple of days and then ask 20 random strangers on the street if they know who Hagel is and to what position was he appointed. You'll be greeted mostly with blank stares.

by Anonymousreply 612/06/2012

CHRIST! I thought we got rid of this bitch when she left "Grey's Anatomy"!

by Anonymousreply 712/06/2012
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