• What they're saying about Chuck Hagel's nomination
• Photo showcase: Chuck Hagel through the years.
• Photo showcase: Hagel nomination press conference.
• Archive, bio, credentials: Read more about Hagel.
• Video: President Obama's national security picks.
• Video: Monday's press conference announcing Hagel's nomination.
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WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama echoed one of Chuck Hagel's favorite lines Monday in nominating the former Nebraska senator to be the next secretary of defense.
Hagel understands that “war is not an abstraction,” Obama said.
“He understands that sending young Americans to fight and bleed in the dirt and mud, that's something we only do when it's absolutely necessary,” Obama said with Hagel at his side.
The White House clearly plans to push Hagel's military background, betting that it will be hard for senators to reject a man who has literally bled for his country.
Amid the ornate trappings of the White House's East Room, Obama noted that Hagel would be the first enlisted man to serve as defense secretary and one of the few combat veterans to hold the position.
Hagel was seriously wounded while fighting in Vietnam.
“Chuck Hagel is the leader that our troops deserve,” Obama said. “He is an American patriot. ... To this day, Chuck bears the scars — and the shrapnel — from the battles he fought in our name.”
As his wife, Lilibet, and their daughter, Allyn, looked on from the audience, Hagel said he was grateful for the chance to serve the country, as well as those in uniform and their families.
“These are people who give so much to this nation every day with such dignity and selflessness,” Hagel said. “This is particularly important at a time as we complete our mission in Afghanistan and support the troops and military families who have sacrificed so much over more than a decade of war.”
Hagel pledged to “always do my best” and to give the president “honest and most informed counsel.”
But Hagel most likely faces a bumpy road to Senate confirmation. He has been taking flak for weeks over his past comments and positions related to Israel, and reporters peppered White House Press Secretary Jay Carney at his Monday briefing with questions about whether Hagel needs to clarify his views before the nomination can move forward.
“Sen. Hagel has been a staunch supporter of Israel ... throughout his career,” Carney responded.
Carney repeatedly defended Hagel as a supporter of Obama's policies, including strong multilateral sanctions against Iran.
Asked about Hagel's credentials to run such a large organization, Carney touted Hagel's background as a successful businessman and a decorated soldier and predicted that Hagel ultimately would be confirmed.
“When the Senate considers the totality of Sen. Hagel's career ... they will confirm him as the next secretary of defense,” he said. “The senator's record is exemplary, both in uniform and in the private sector, and as a United States senator and as an adviser on intelligence matters to the president.”
In cable TV news interviews Monday, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, the minority whip, took issue with the idea that Hagel's nomination represented bipartisanship, saying Hagel had left the Republican Party years ago. He said Hagel has been “profoundly wrong” on many of the most important national security issues of the day, including his approach to responding to Iran and its bid for nuclear weapons, dealing with terrorist organizations and supporting Israel.
One of the hurdles facing Hagel is that he “burned bridges” during his two terms in the Senate, said Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., who succeeded Hagel.
Hagel angered many of his fellow Republicans with his aggressive criticisms of President George W. Bush about his handling of the Iraq War, and some of those same senators will now have a say in the fate of his nomination.
Johanns said some of Hagel's statements on the Middle East sound out of the mainstream, but said that doesn't necessarily disqualify him from serving as defense secretary.
Specifically, Johanns said, Hagel's statements that the United States should negotiate with Iran over its controversial nuclear program qualified as “out of the mainstream.”
“It's very troublesome because you're trying to negotiate with someone who's trying to get the upper hand to destroy our ally (Israel),” said Johanns.
Johanns also said Hagel will have a chance at his confirmation hearing to explain his views and defend his record. He said Hagel has many things going for him.
Still, Johanns said that the confirmation battle will be spirited and that, as it stands today, he does not think Hagel has the votes to win confirmation.
Johanns said he will wait to decide how he will vote on Hagel's nomination until after the confirmation hearing. Johanns went through the nomination process to become agriculture secretary under Bush.
Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., will be one of the senators asking questions at Hagel's hearing. Just sworn into office last week, Fischer landed a spot on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Fischer said that she has known Hagel for years and that he encouraged her to run for the Senate. She said she shares others' concerns about his comments on Israel, noting that they are shared by some Democrats.
“It's not just Republican or conservative concerns, it's bipartisan concerns,” Fischer said.
Hagel made a last-minute endorsement of Fischer's opponent, Democrat Bob Kerrey. Fischer said, however, that the endorsement would be a nonfactor for her and that she was focused on the process.
She said she's looking forward to hearing more about Hagel's views on a range of issues, including budget cuts.
“It's always good to know more about someone and their principles and their beliefs and their values, because that's a person's core and that core determines how people make decisions,” she said.
The White House will be pushing Hagel's credentials as a former soldier, someone who will look out for the men and women on the front lines whose lives are affected by decisions made in Washington.
“As I saw during our visits together to Afghanistan and Iraq, in Chuck Hagel, our troops see a decorated combat veteran of character and strength,” Obama said. “They see one of their own.”
Robert E. Wallace, executive director of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, issued a statement praising Hagel:
“It is not the place for America's oldest and largest combat veterans organization to advise or recommend to the President who he should nominate for cabinet positions. However, the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. considers Chuck Hagel — a twice-wounded Vietnam War infantryman and former two-term U.S. senator from Nebraska — to be uniquely qualified to lead the Department of Defense.”
Obama urged swift consideration by the Senate and said there is much to be done — winding down the war in Afghanistan, caring for returning veterans and responding to a diverse set of new threats.
He added one other task: “continuing to ensure that our men and women in uniform can serve the country they love, no matter who they love.”
That comment was noteworthy, given that gay rights groups had questioned Hagel's ability to continue implementing the repeal of “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” policies because of comments he made 15 years ago to The World-Herald regarding an openly gay nominee for an ambassadorship.
Hagel last month apologized for those comments.
Levin calls Hagel 'well-qualified,' Cantor upset
The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee says Chuck Hagel is "well-qualified" to be the next Defense secretary.
Sen. Carl Levin, who will oversee Hagel's confirmation hearing, said in a statement Monday that the former Republican senator has a wealth of experience in national security and is a strong advocate for the men and women of the military.
Sen. Jim Inhofe, who will be the top Republican on the panel, mentioned concerns about Hagel's policy positions and vowed to seek clarification during the hearing.
In the House, Majority Leader Eric Cantor says Hagel is the wrong man for the job. The Virginia Republican said Hagel has espoused incendiary views about Israel that are out of the mainstream.
Only the Senate votes on the nomination.
McCollister, Heineman weigh in
Former Nebraska Rep. John Y. McCollister, a Republican, once was a big supporter of Hagel, his former chief of staff. But they fell out over Hagel's Iraq War positions.
McCollister said he wishes his former protégé well but is not sure Hagel is a good fit for defense secretary.
“The Defense Department has a lot of quagmires, bogs and shallow shoals,” he said. “I don't know how well Chuck will negotiate some of those issues.”
Still, McCollister said, Hagel has “enormous ability” and has done a lot of good in public life.
Gov. Dave Heineman said it was nice to have a former Nebraskan on the national stage.
“Chuck's an independent thinker,” he said. “He's a maverick politically, and that's probably why he's gotten into a little bit of hot water, if you want to describe it that way, with the state over the last couple of years.”
Heineman noted Hagel's military service.
“If Sen. Hagel is confirmed, he has one very important attribute in his background that will serve him very well,” Heineman said. “He is a veteran of the U.S. Army, he served in combat, he knows what it's like to get shot at, and I think it's important to have a secretary of defense who understands that, when you're discussing about putting this nation at war.”
--- Paul Goodsell
World-Herald staff writer Robynn Tysver contributed to this report.
Contact the writer: 202-630-4823, email@example.com
More on Hagel
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• Leon Panetta calls Chuck Hagel 'smart, capable'
• Chuck Hagel draws fire for his position on Israel
• Gay-rights group critical of Chuck Hagel's remarks
• Midlands Voices: Hagel would be deserving of defense post
• Chuck Hagel named 2005 Midlander of the Year
• Sept. 8, 2007: Hagel to announce Senate retirement and no bid for presidency, sources say
Chuck Hagel and Israel
TWO BIG ISSUES: Hagel raises hackles, particularly among right-wing Israelis and some Americans who see him as unsympathetic, on the following issues:
» The Palestinians. In a bipartisan 2009 letter, Hagel called for a “pragmatic” approach to Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that rules the Gaza Strip, although the letter said direct U.S. engagement “may not now be practical.” Critics accused Hagel of supporting talks with Hamas, a terrorist group in Israeli and U.S. eyes. On the other hand, Israel itself has held indirect talks with Hamas.
» Iran's nuclear work. Hagel has criticized talk of an attack on Iran's nuclear sites as unrealistic, but more recently he has said he agrees with President Barack Obama that a military strike is a last-resort option. He has opposed some unilateral sanctions against Iran as ineffective but has supported sanctions backed by the international community.
PAST STATEMENTS: Hagel once said “the Jewish lobby (in the U.S.) intimidates a lot of people here” and does some “dumb things.” He also said, “I'm not an Israeli senator. I'm a United States senator. I support Israel, but my first interest is, I take an oath of office to the Constitution of the United States.”
VIEWS OF ISRAELIS MIXED: Many in Israel share Hagel's views, but not Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who already has a chilly relationship with President Barack Obama. Netanyahu, who's expected to win re-election this month, refused to comment. A fellow Likud member, Reuven Rivlin, said of Hagel: “Because of his statements in the past and his stance toward Israel, we are worried.”
MILITARY TIES: Defense issues are an area in which U.S.-Israeli relations are unusually strong. The two defense establishments cooperate closely in monitoring Iran, training troops and developing new weapons, such as Israel's new “Iron Dome” rocket defense system, built with U.S. funds.
— The Associated Press
Chuck Hagel's bio, credentials
Born: North Platte, Neb., Oct. 4, 1946
Family: Wife, Lilibet; daughter, Allyn; son, Ziller
Education: St. Bonaventure High School, Columbus, 1964. Brown Institute for Radio and Television, Minneapolis, 1966; bachelor's degree, history, University of Nebraska at Omaha, 1971
Hagel's lengthy résumé includes these experiences involving the military, government and foreign policy:
» U.S. Army sergeant, served in Vietnam 1967-68; awarded Purple Heart twice, Army Commendation Medal, Combat Infantryman's Badge, Republic of South Vietnam Cross of Gallantry (three times)
» Chief of staff to U.S. Rep. John Y. McCollister, R-Neb.
» Deputy administrator, U.S. Veterans Administration, 1981-82
» CEO and president of the USO, 1987-1990
» U.S. senator, 1997 to 2009; served on the Foreign Relations and Intelligence Committees
» Chairman, the Atlantic Council, an international affairs think tank, 2009-current
» Co-chairman, President's Intelligence Advisory Board, 2009-current
» Government professor, Georgetown University, 2009-current