President Barack Obama has selected a former Nebraska senator, Chuck Hagel, as his next defense secretary, a White House official said Sunday, turning to a prominent Republican to lead the Pentagon as it faces of the challenge of winding down the war in Afghanistan and possible reductions in military spending.
But the nomination, which could come as early as Monday, is already encountering opposition from Republicans and Democrats alike because of Hagel’s stand on Israel and his comments about an ambassador who was gay.
Republicans, in particular, have question his stance on Israel.
''His views with regard to Israel, for example, and Iran and all the other positions that he’s taken over the years will be very much a matter of discussion in the confirmation process,’’ Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. and the Republican leader in the Senate, said Sunday on NBC’s ‘‘Meet the Press.’’
Still, McConnell said he had not decided whether he would support Hagel. ‘‘I think there will be a lot of tough questions for Sen. Hagel, but he will be treated fairly by Republicans in the Senate,’’ McConnell said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Sunday that he personally liked Hagel, but that he was ‘‘out of the mainstream of thinking on most issues regarding foreign policy.’’
''This is an in-your-face nomination of the president to all of us who are supportive of Israel,’’ Graham said on CNN. ‘‘I don’t know what his management experience is in regards to the Pentagon or global if anyway, so I think it’s an extremely controversial choice.’’
The president has praised Hagel, a Vietnam veteran, as a ‘‘patriot,’’ saying nothing in his record would prevent him from serving as defense secretary.
Hagel has provoked ire among conservatives and some Jewish groups by describing pro-Israel lobbying groups as the ‘‘Jewish lobby.’’
He has also come under fire for saying 14 years ago that President Bill Clinton’s nominee for ambassador to Luxembourg, James C. Hormel, was not qualified because he was ‘‘openly, aggressively gay.’’ He has since apologized.