WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is expected to nominate Chuck Hagel, a former Republican senator and Vietnam veteran, to be secretary of defense, officials said, setting up a confirmation battle with lawmakers and interest groups critical of his views on Israel and Iran.
White House officials said Friday afternoon that the president hadn’t formally offered the job to Hagel, but others familiar with the process said that the announcement could come as soon as Monday.
By nominating a Republican to run the Defense Department, Obama gives his second-term national security team a bipartisan cast at a time when the White House is rapidly winding down the war in Afghanistan and planning for even deeper cuts in the defense budget.
But the choice also sets the stage for a possibly difficult confirmation fight over Hagel with Israel’s defenders in Washington, some of whom mounted a public campaign to head off his nomination in recent weeks, criticizing Hagel for his past comments calling on Israel to negotiate with Palestinians and for his opposition to some sanctions aimed at Iran.
Hagel, who would replace Leon E. Panetta as defense secretary, has also been criticized by liberal Democrats and gay rights organizations for calling a Clinton administration ambassadorial nominee “openly, aggressively gay” — a comment Hagel recently apologized for.
Hagel is a former two-term Republican senator from Nebraska and an Army veteran who was awarded two Purple Hearts for wounds he received in Vietnam.
In the Senate, he initially voted to give the George W. Bush administration authority to go to war in Afghanistan and Iraq, but later harshly criticized the conduct of both wars, irritating fellow Republicans and making him popular with Democrats critical of those wars.