President Barack Obama nominated on Monday former Republican senator Chuck Hagel to serve as the new defense secretary to take the reins from outgoing Secretary Leon Panetta.
Host Carmen Russell-Sluchansky spoke with Politico defense reporter Tim Mack to discuss the politics behind the appointment.
President Barack Obama is determined to fill out the remainder of his Cabinet as he begins his second term. Yesterday he announced some very key national security nominees to help fill out this post. This morning we’re joined on line by Tim Mak. Tim is political pro-defense reporter at website POLITICO.com.
Let’s get started with Secretary of Defense Nominee that President selected yesterday – that would be Nebraska Republican Senator Chuck Hagel. Why does Obama like him for that post?
It seems that there is a real balance of the trust between the two. They’re former colleagues. They know each other well. They like each other. If you look at the nominees that the President has put forward for Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense and CIA Director Positions – John Kerry, Chuck Hagel, John Brennan – all of them are those the President knows and trusts very much. They’re tight within a circle. And it’s clear that President is trying to set a tone in a second term with that.
Let’s talk about Chuck Hagel’s qualifications for this position. Aside from being Vietnam War veteran, what other experience and qualifications does Hagel bring to the Secretary of Defense post?
He’s a businessman. He earned his wealth through cellphone business. He’s also worked for the Veterans Administration Agency. He’s been a two-term senator. He’s now head of the Atlantic Council think tank group here in D.C.
As Chuck Hagel is seeking nomination that President Obama put forward yesterday, there’s also been a large kerfuffle on Capitol Hill, namely coming from republicans voting their displeasure over the selection of Chuck Hagel. Israel and Iran seem to be the two sticking points that republicans really have grievances with Senator Hagel about. What are his positions on these foreign policy issues?
The criticism of Chuck Hagel on Israel, Iran and the Middle East is that he’s too soft on Iran, he opposed tougher sanctions on the country and that he isn’t sufficiently pro-Israel. He referred at one time to the “Jewish lobby” which some pro-Israel advocates find disturbing and he has also advocated on more progressive views on the Middle East with regards to Hezbollah and Hamas and other entities.
As we move along to the selection of John Brennan to head up the CIA, there was an absence in this post after General Petraeus was forced to resign after allegations of his sex scandal. John Brennan has been in the agency for some time. Tell us something about his background as well.
John Brennan’s home is really the CIA, that’s where he came to the White House as a Counter-Terrorism National Security Adviser to the President. The President wants someone he could trust, wants someone he’s close with, wants someone he has personal dialogue with to head up the agency.
In your opinion, Tim, what do these selections say to you about the tone that the Obama administration is taking for its second term, at least as it relates to issues of national security?
There’s a lot of talk about how the President is going to try to be more aggressive in putting his stamp on warfare and national security in the second term. The point is for him to have people who can reflect his views and to have a stronger influence over the next four years and beyond and try to send a message to critics who might disagree. He’s not going to bend to their criticisms of his nominees.
How likely is that either of these nominees will be confirmed via the Senate? It already appears as if President Obama is going to have a fight when it comes to getting Chuck Hagel confirmed in his position. There have even been some talks that the President may not have as many democratic votes for confirmation of Hagel in the Senate as he would like. Is this going to be an easy confirmation for either Hagel or Brennan?
I don’t think so. It’s going to be contested and it’s going to be controversial. That’s sad. If we’re looking at Chuck Hagel, he’s a former colleague to a lot of members of the Senate. And that matters quite a bit. John Brennan has a little advantage, with work he’s been involved in for the last four years it seems that criticism of him might be less than the attention that’s been given to Chuck Hagel.
Should Chuck Hagel fail to be confirmed, who could possibly be waiting in the wings as the next Secretary of Defense?
There’s a tough confirmation ahead. But a lot of people have been talking about Michele Flournoy. She’s the former under-Secretary of Defense. She’ll be the first female Secretary of Defense. And a lot of people are fans of hers. But, again, the White House is focused on making sure its nominee is going to get confirmed.
Indeed, the President will certainly have a very interesting battle on Capitol Hill to see if his nominees will be confirmed in his Cabinet.
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