President Obama nominated two controversial officials for his second-term national security team on Monday, teeing up what could turn into a confirmation battle shortly after the inauguration.
The president nominated former Sen. Chuck Hagel for defense secretary and White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan for CIA director. The president touted the credentials and years of service each would bring to their respective posts.
On Hagel, Obama said the troops would "see one of their own" at the helm of the Pentagon. Hagel is a Vietnam combat veteran, and the president stressed that Hagel would be the first Vietnam vet to lead the department if confirmed.
"Chuck Hagel is the leader that our troops deserve. He is an American patriot," the president said.
Yet each nominee is poised to attract tough bipartisan criticism -- and perhaps opposition -- during the confirmation process. While Obama went the relatively safe route with his pick for secretary of state, tapping Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, his choices for his national security team could cause a ruckus on Capitol Hill.
On Sunday, several Republican senators suggested they would have problems with Hagel, while Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said he is reserving judgment. Republicans question Hagel's commitment to Israel and his toughness when it comes to Iran. But Hagel also has come under fire from gay rights groups for saying in 1998 that a nominee for an ambassador post was "openly, aggressively gay."
He has since apologized for those comments. Gay rights group GetEQUAL, though, panned the apology as "hollow" and "politically expedient."
Texas Sen. John Cornyn had the most strident remarks, saying Obama nominating Hagel sends "the worst possible message" to Israel and other U.S. allies in the Middle East, citing in part Hagel's views on Israel and his opposition to Iranian sanctions. He did not say whether he would try to block Hagel's potential nomination during a Senate confirmation hearing.
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