Hagel nod faces opposition from both sides of aisle

(CBS News) WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama today picked the men to fight the war on terror and get U.S. forces out of Afghanistan. He nominated former Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, a Republican, to be Secretary of Defense and homeland security adviser John Brennan to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Hagel faces at least some opposition by both Democrats and fellow Republicans.

The president knows there is a fight ahead, but he's willing to wage it in part because he believes now is the time for a secretary of defense who knows what combat is like up close and what the wounded experience when the war is over. Not only did Hagel volunteer for combat duty in Vietnam, he was awarded two Purple Hearts.

"He'd be the first person of enlisted rank to serve as Secretary of Defense, one of the few secretaries who've been wounded in war and the first Vietnam veteran to lead the department," Obama said in announcing the nomination Monday.

To quiet complaints by Democrats that Hagel is a Republican, Obama secured endorsements from his outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and top counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, whom the president also nominated Monday to lead the CIA.

"Chuck Hagel is a patriot, he's a decorated combat veteran and he is a dedicated public servant," Panetta said.

Brennan stated, "I very much look forward to the opportunity and privilege to serve with another of America's great patriots, Chuck Hagel."

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But Hagel has taken positions unpopular with both Democrats and Republicans. While in the Senate, he voted for the 2003 Iraq war but came to believe that war was mismanaged. He voted against some sanctions on Iran aimed at curbing its nuclear program. Opponents also highlight Hagel's comments about Israel and gays.

Of Israeli influence on the U.S., Hagel said, "The Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here. I'm a United States senator. I'm not an Israeli senator."

Hagel also opposed the nomination of James Hormel as ambassador to Luxembourg in 1998 because Hormel was openly gay.

"I think it is an inhibiting factor to be gay -- openly, aggressively gay, like Mr. Hormel -- to do an effective job," Hagel said 14 years ago. He recently apologized, calling the remarks insensitive.

Obama did not spend a lot of time in the United States Senate, but when he was there he forged a relationship based on candor and trust with Hagel, partially during their time together on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and partially during trips to Iraq and Afghanistan. The president said Monday that he had always been impressed with Hagel's willingness to go against conventional wisdom. Hagel said that if he's confirmed, he'll do just that.

Brennan will probably an easier time than Hagel. He's been the number one adviser for the president dealing with every terrorist plot -- real, imagined, large and small -- for four years at the Obama White House. He's a 25-year veteran from the C.I.A. He rose up in the ranks, has substantial experience and good relations on Capitol Hill.

  • Major Garrett

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