Former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel may face opposition from both sides of the aisle if President Barack Obama seeks to appoint him to replace outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent who's retiring and wouldn't have a vote, cited Hagel's less-than-hawkish positions on Iran.
Lieberman told CNN's "State of the Union" that it would be "a very tough confirmation process," and "there are reasonable questions to ask and that Chuck Hagel will have to answer."
Hagel once made reference to the "Jewish lobby" in the United States, a comment that Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., called "inappropriate."
"There's no such thing as a Jewish lobby," McCain said. "There's an Armenian lobby, there's not a Jewish lobby. There's an Israeli lobby. It's called AIPAC, very influential."
On NBC's "Meet the Press," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said it would be "a challenging nomination."
"I don't think he's going to get many Republican votes," Graham said.
Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer, also appearing on "Meet the Press," didn’t directly answer host David Gregory’s question about whether Hagel should replace Panetta, NBC News reported.
“Well, that’s his choice,” the New York senator said. “I think once he makes it, his record will be studied carefully. But until that point, I think we’re not going to know what’s going to happen.”
Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, predicted hard questions for Hagel.
“I like Chuck," Graham said. "But his positions, I didn't really frankly know all of them, are really out of the mainstream, and well to the left of the president. I think it'll be a challenging nomination. But the (confirmation) hearings will matter.”
Graham said he’s got questions about Hagel’s positions on Iran, Israel, Afghanistan and more, and said he’s made “very troubling comments by a future secretary of defense.”
The Washington Post has also opposed nominating Hagel, even though the paper usually supports Obama’s decisions. In an editorial, the paper called Hagel’s views on Iran “isolated” and said as a senator, he voted against sanctions and said negotiations would work better against Iran.
The Post’s editorial said it doubts that Hagel can effectively implement an order from Obama to use force to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear arsenal.
In addition to the Post, Bret Stephens, a conservative Wall Street Journal columnist, has heavily criticized Hagel, saying the “Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here (on Capitol Hill)."
Democratic Rep. Elliot Engel, of New York, who becomes the senior Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee next year, told C-Span Sunday that Hagel seems to have an “endemic hostility toward Israel. And that’s troublesome for me and for a lot of other people. Obviously he served in the Senate for a number of years and he has done many good things. But I think in the sensitive post of secretary of defense those are warning bells, those are red lights. And I think that it’s potentially troublesome.”
Hagel has also come under fire for his opposition to President Bill Clinton’s nomination of James Hormel as ambassador to Luxembourg in 1998 because Hormel was “openly, aggressively gay."
The former senator apologized for the comments last week, saying the statements he made 14 years ago were insensitive.
“They do not reflect my views or the totality of my public record, and I apologize to Ambassador Hormel and any LGBT Americans who may question my commitment to their civil rights,” Hagel said. “I am fully supportive of ‘open service’ and committed to LGBT military families.”
At least two other candidates remain under serious consideration — former Pentagon policy chief Michele Flournoy and Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.
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