Likely Chuck Hagel nomination draws fire from both sides

Then-U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) addresses the National Newspaper Association's Government Affairs Conference March 22, 2007 in Washington, DC.
Then-U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) addresses the National Newspaper Association's Government Affairs Conference March 22, 2007 in Washington, DC.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

(CBS News) WASHINGTON - The stage is being set in Washington Sunday night for yet another potentially divisive partisan fight.

President Barack Obama is expected to nominate Sen. Chuck Hagel to head the Department of Defense, possibly as early as Monday.

With two terms as a Republican Senator and two Purple Hearts from Vietnam, Hagel might seem a shoo-in as President Obama's next Defense Secretary.

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Chuck Hagel comes under fire for views on Israel

But his controversial stances on Israel, and a 14-year-old comment against gays, ensure some opposition in both parties.

On Sunday, Sen. Lindsey Graham called Hagel an "in your face" pick.

"Chuck Hagel, if confirmed to be Secretary of Defense, would be the most antagonistic Secretary of Defense towards the State of Israel in our nation's history," Graham said on CNN's "State of the Union."

Israel supporters are already running attack ads portraying Hagel as soft on terror for supporting direct talks with Hamas and for his stances on Iran.

"President Obama says he supports sanctions on Iran. Hagel voted against them," says one ad from The Emergency Committee for Israel.

Hagel has friends -- and enemies -- on both sides of the aisle. Once embraced by Presidents Bush and Reagan, he's now a member of President Obama's Intelligence Advisory Board.

Besides risking opposition from pro-Israel Democrats and Republicans, Hagel has to fend off gay rights groups for his comments in 1998, when he opposed a nominee for U.S. ambassador as "openly, aggressively gay." Two weeks ago, Hagel apologized, calling the remarks "insensitive" and saying he supports gays openly serving in the military.

President Obama said the apology reflects America's changing attitudes.

"With respect to the particular comment that you quoted, he apologized for it," President Obama said on NBC's "Meet The Press" last week.

Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, says Hagel has a powerful resume and a strong record on national security.

"He is a serious candidate if the president chooses to name him," Durbin said on CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday.

Often, confirmation hearings are pretty much a rubber stamp, but if Hagel is nominated, his confirmation hearings are seen as crucial to and decisive in the process.

(additional info: hagel is a longtime advocate for veterans, former founder of an investment banking firm, and currently on the boards of oil (Chevron) insurance (Zurich) and banking (Deutsche) companies.

  • Sharyl Attkisson
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    Sharyl Attkisson is a CBS News investigative correspondent based in Washington.