According to a congressional Democratic aide, President Barack Obama will nominate former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel to be his defense secretary, and an official announcement could come as early as Monday.
Obama's selection will likely set up a confirmation battle in the Senate over whether the Vietnam War veteran strongly supports key U.S. ally Israel. The former Nebraska senator has also been criticized for comments that he made questioning the effectiveness of sanctions in Iran for its nuclear program.
The Obama administration backed down from what would have been a tough Senate confirmation battle over Susan Rice, the current U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations who was Obama's first pick to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. Rice withdrew her name from consideration after she drew heavy criticism from Republicans for remarks she made in the aftermath of an attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012.
A Senate Democratic aide revealed:
The administration has a lot of work to do on Hagel. He is in a weaker position now than Rice ever was because Rice would have rallied Democrats behind her. The administration floated Hagel's name, then neglected to defend him effectively when his critics started taking shots."
In late December, Obama offered strong support for Hagel as a replacement for Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who said that he would like to leave early in the second term. At the time, President Obama said on MSNBC's "Meet the Press":
"I've served with Chuck Hagel. I know him. He is a patriot. He is somebody who has done extraordinary work both in the United States Senate, somebody who served this country with valor in Vietnam."