Monday, January 7
President Obama on Monday nominated former Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel as defense secretary and counterterrorism adviser John O. Brennan as director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Appearing with the two men in the East Room of the White House, Obama called Hagel “the leader that our troops deserve” and a “champion of our troops and our veterans and our military families.” He said Hagel, a former Army sergeant, would be the first person of enlisted rank and the first Vietnam War veteran to head the Defense Department.
“Maybe most importantly, Chuck knows that war is not an abstraction, Obama said.
In Brennan, Obama said, the CIA “will have the leadership of one of our nation’s most skilled and respected intelligence professionals.”
Standing alongside the nominees were outgoing Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and acting CIA director Michael J. Morell.
“I hope that the Senate will act on these confirmations promptly,” Obama said. “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.”
In a brief speech accepting his nomination, Hagel pledged to work to “strengthen our country and strengthen our country’s alliances, and advance global freedom, decency and humanity as we help build a better world for all mankind.” He said he would always give Obama “my honest and most informed counsel.”
Brennan, who described himself as “neither a Republican nor a Democrat,” said he would “make it my mission to ensure that the CIA has the tools it needs to keep our nation safe, and that its work always reflects the liberties, the freedoms and the values that we hold so dear.”
If confirmed by the Senate, the nomination of Hagel would add a well-known Republican to the president’s second-term Cabinet at a time when he is looking to better bridge the partisan divide, particularly after a bitter election campaign. But the selection has drawn sharp criticism, particularly from Republicans, who have questioned Hagel’s commitment to Israel’s security.
While noting that Hagel “served our nation with honor in Vietnam,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said in a statement: “I have serious concerns about positions Senator Hagel has taken on a range of critical national security issues in recent years, which we will fully consider in the course of his confirmation process before the Senate Armed Services Committee.”
McCain also said he has “many questions and concerns” about Brennan’s nomination, “especially what role he played in the so-called enhanced interrogation programs while serving at the CIA during the last administration, as well as his public defense of those programs.”
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) strongly denounced the nomination of Hagel, calling him “the wrong man for the job at such a pivotal time.” The second-ranking House Republican said Hagel’s “views and inflammatory statements about Israel are well outside the mainstream and raise well-founded doubts that he can be trusted to manage the special relationship the United States shares with our greatest Middle East ally.”