Sources: Hagel frontrunner for defense secretary
December 12th, 2012
06:51 PM ET
2 years ago

Sources: Hagel frontrunner for defense secretary

Washington (CNN) - Former Nebraska Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel has met with both President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, as the president considers tapping him to replace Leon Panetta as defense secretary, according to several knowledgeable sources.

Several sources familiar with the process say Hagel appears to have the inside track for the job. CNN has previously reported Hagel is on the short list of potential nominees. One Democratic source familiar with the process simply dubs Hagel "the frontrunner." Another Democrat with knowledge of the process calls Hagel’s nomination "almost a done deal." But according to an administration official, no decisions have been made.

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Reuters reported that Obama and Hagel met early last week.

Hagel, who serves as the co-chair of the president's Intelligence Advisory Board, is someone well-known to the president. He crossed party lines to endorse Obama for president in 2008, and traveled with him to Afghanistan and Iraq. He is also friendly with Biden because both men worked together on a variety of foreign policy issues when they served in the Senate.

Since leaving the Senate in 2009, Hagel has remained engaged in public policy. He now heads the nonpartisan Atlantic Council. But he is known as someone who supports "engagement" and "soft power." He opposed President George W. Bush's decision to invade Iraq and was against the Bush administration's troop surge there in 2007.

Many Senate Republicans would no doubt raise questions about Hagel's foreign policy positions.

If nominated and confirmed, Hagel would be Obama's second Republican defense secretary. Bob Gates stayed on when Obama took office after having served in the role under Bush. If not nominated for the Pentagon, there is also a possibility that Hagel might be considered for another post.

Sources say others under consideration for the defense post include Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Michele Flournoy, who was previously a top Pentagon official.

Carter, who has helped oversee the Pentagon's recent belt tightening, would be viewed as well suited to lead the sprawling agency during a period of fiscal austerity. Flournoy would make history as the first woman ever to run the Pentagon.

Panetta has indicated he would like to return to private life in California in 2013.

Both sources also confirm, as CNN has previously reported, that current chief of staff Jack Lew is likely to be nominated as treasury secretary.

One knowledgeable source says that any changes at the staff level- or in the economic team- are likely to be put on hold until there is a clearer picture of the fate of the fiscal cliff negotiations.

The question of who will be asked to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton-and when-remains unanswered. One of the Democratic sources says the president remains a "very big Susan Rice fan," but also adds that "the longer he lets her (Rice) hang out there, the harder it is. The last week was not good for her."

Rice, the U.N. ambassador, traveled to Capitol Hill recently to meet with skeptical Republicans about her role in the controversy over the administration's public response to the deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, in September.

The sessions seemed to do little to assuage their questions. One moderate Republican, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, emerged from her session clearly unenthusiastic about a potential Rice nomination.

Both sources say that the question of Rice's future is very closely held, as is the question of the timing of any nomination. One knowledgeable source indicated some announcements on the foreign policy front could be made next week. Sources also caution that these nominations should be seen as part of a larger picture: As in a chess game, each move affects the next move.

For instance, there is a consideration of working relationships, the president's "comfort level, and issues like diversity. If Rice were not to be nominated as secretary of state, the top four Cabinet posts-attorney general, defense, treasury and state-would all be filled by men, if the State Department nod was given to Sen. John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) instead of Rice.

One of the knowledgeable sources says the White House is considering former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland or outgoing Washington state Gov. Christine Gregoire for the position of transportation secretary.


Filed under: 2012 • Chuck Hagel • President Obama
soundoff (70 Responses)
  1. Jimh77

    As long as he has America in the balance and not his party of NO

    December 13, 2012 01:14 am at 1:14 am |
  2. john

    as long as he is qualified for the job, his political affiliation shouldn't matter

    December 13, 2012 01:23 am at 1:23 am |
  3. kalksdjfalkjgakgqeiruqoihqkhglakgjaalkjqlwjrqi

    i don't think it would be a good idea to have republicans. the guy might be good, but the party appears to be corrupt and has issues.

    December 13, 2012 01:36 am at 1:36 am |
  4. Rick1948

    Once someone is in a position like Secretary of Defense, you would hope that politics would go by the wayside and the safety of the country would come first. Hopefully, that will be true.

    December 13, 2012 02:03 am at 2:03 am |
  5. kalksdjfalkjgakgqeiruqoihqkhglakgjaalkjqlwjrqi

    seems kind of odd that they keep shuffling the same people around.

    December 13, 2012 02:03 am at 2:03 am |
  6. truthandconsequence

    don't worry – hagel is no republican...certainly no more than arlen specter was.

    December 13, 2012 03:03 am at 3:03 am |
  7. moveover007

    Colleen Powell for Sec. of defense/cia

    December 13, 2012 03:05 am at 3:05 am |
  8. Jhonnypatriot

    Could be worse could be a Dem

    December 13, 2012 04:09 am at 4:09 am |
  9. Steve

    So hes a democrat with a republican tag? LOL. Against the troop surge...which worked and Obama took credit for? Interesting. Sounds like a confused lackluster individual. Soft power? So we can expect more of our amassadors to be killed in the next 4 years?

    December 13, 2012 04:15 am at 4:15 am |
  10. Lance D.

    Ann Romney Turkey Chili and "Banana Cheese Gas" - Obama feeling the heat from all sides - No place to run - Not even the Berkshires - NYSP-BCI very smart (wink)

    December 13, 2012 05:41 am at 5:41 am |
  11. Epidi

    Nice to see Dems & Repubs working together for a change!

    December 13, 2012 05:53 am at 5:53 am |
  12. sidprejean

    I think that the issue of using Cabinet appointments to pursue diversity is overblown. After all, when was the last "white guy" to be Secretary of State?
    Nominate the best person after a full and equal evaluation of qualifications. If it's Susan Rice, so be it. If it's "some white guy", so be it, as well.

    December 13, 2012 06:18 am at 6:18 am |
  13. Marie MD

    We have not learned from mcnasty's HUGE mistake in 2008. It's not just any woman, after Hillary lost to Obama, but it's the person who can do the best job.
    If a rethug can do a good job without taking us into more unnecessary wars then so be it.

    December 13, 2012 06:26 am at 6:26 am |
  14. Please Grow Up

    Choose a current Republican Senator. Empty the seat! Play politics like the right does, ya bonehead!

    December 13, 2012 06:47 am at 6:47 am |
  15. Irving

    Obama continues the Bushes' pro-Islamo-fascist terrorist militaristic policies.

    December 13, 2012 07:00 am at 7:00 am |
  16. Piff Brown

    Sounds like a good choice. No doubt Hagel would be dubbed a RINO as soon as he's nominated.

    December 13, 2012 07:12 am at 7:12 am |
  17. RAL

    Chuck would be a good choice as secretary Of Defense His presense woulld add some well needed Intellegence & Common sense to this otherwise confused y Administration

    December 13, 2012 07:14 am at 7:14 am |
  18. Craig in Pa.

    Will be interesting to see/hear what the Repubs and Focks News reaction will be if this comes to pass...I think Obama should throw them a real curve on the Sec. Of State too...something like maybe nominating Colin Powell...The right would go nuts!!!....would be great to watch!

    December 13, 2012 07:18 am at 7:18 am |
  19. Senior

    This would be a wonderful choice!

    December 13, 2012 07:28 am at 7:28 am |
  20. 0Patrick0

    There are many things to commend such an appointment, but I fear Hagel isn't bright enough to do the job.

    December 13, 2012 07:51 am at 7:51 am |
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