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. Karen M

    He is not a republican. He WAS a republican. He has supported democrats since the Nebraska voters let him know they weren't going to reelect him.

    December 12, 2012 07:11 pm at 7:11 pm |
  2. Nan Beckwith

    As a Mother of a Combat Veteran, I know first hand, how Senator Chuck Hagel cares for our American Troops, and Combat Veterans. Senator Hagel has travelled to the Middle East countless of times, in the past 10 years and he just didn't go to meet with the "big wigs", he spoke one on one with the enlisted troops. Senator Hagel was awarded the Purple Heart while serving in Vietnam. He knows the reality of what the GI's and their families deal with on daily basis! What America needs in a leader for the Defense Department is the Veteran Chuck Hagel!

    December 12, 2012 07:45 pm at 7:45 pm |
  3. California Gary

    From what I have seen of Hagel, I think he would be an excellent choice in this role. Very level headed guy, and you don't see many of those anymore with an "R" by their name.

    December 12, 2012 07:52 pm at 7:52 pm |
  4. Kelby in Houston, TX

    "Will Obama tap a Republican for defense?"
    I wouldn't
    ya know how weak those Republicans are on defense. One time they let this guy who committed a terrorist act on American soil to breathe the free air years after he did it, went to war with the wrong country, started warrant less domestic wire tapping...huge mess

    December 12, 2012 07:56 pm at 7:56 pm |
  5. judy

    who ever the president picks for any office the repos will complain. that's the only strategy they have . Hold up jobs hold up policy hold up the fiscal cliff. Their idea is to make everything as hard as they can for this president and in turn they don't mind s crewing the American people in the process.

    December 12, 2012 08:16 pm at 8:16 pm |
  6. Ancient Texan

    Hagel was always more attuned to the liberal side of an issue than not, so should be as good as any candidate for the job.

    December 12, 2012 09:27 pm at 9:27 pm |
  7. Bull31

    This, America, is what you call political compromise. Obama really knows how to get things done.

    December 12, 2012 10:22 pm at 10:22 pm |
  8. jo an

    Only if he does not oppose abortion for rape...'in military'...so tired of men thinking they own women's bodies....

    December 12, 2012 10:24 pm at 10:24 pm |
  9. Rob

    Obama should pull from GOP members that are currently sitting in either chamber to get them unseated. Let them refuse to sit in the President's cabinet so they seem unpatriotic. I'm sure this is one reason the GOP is asking Obama to select Kerry as Secretary of State.

    December 12, 2012 10:28 pm at 10:28 pm |
  10. Socrates

    Mr. Hagel is a good choice but my question to him is: What were you doing with the Republicans. It seems to me you have nothing in common with those guys.

    December 12, 2012 10:28 pm at 10:28 pm |
  11. john cage

    Good Choice but the Republican party will never sign off on it. They are bent on stopping anything you do

    December 12, 2012 10:29 pm at 10:29 pm |
  12. Mike

    This will be tough for McSain to swallow as a Republican he supported Obama over McCain in 2008.

    December 12, 2012 10:29 pm at 10:29 pm |
  13. Chedar

    Jon Huntsman as Secretary of State unless he plan to run in 2016 which will be in conflict with Hilliary Clinton.

    December 12, 2012 10:30 pm at 10:30 pm |
  14. TheMovieFan

    Chuck Hagel is one of the rare sane and rational Republicans.

    December 12, 2012 10:32 pm at 10:32 pm |
  15. GrogInOhio

    I hate this nonsense that Sec of Defense so often has to be a Republican in Democratic administrations. NOT NECESSARY!!!

    December 12, 2012 10:33 pm at 10:33 pm |
  16. Classic

    This is brilliant. Stick a respected Republican with the task of dismanteling defense spending. Priceless, Jeff Sessions and the boys are going to squeal like stuck pigs....

    December 12, 2012 10:36 pm at 10:36 pm |
  17. Clark Nova

    The betrayal of the Democratic base, Part 2, apparently begins here.

    December 12, 2012 10:37 pm at 10:37 pm |
  18. blue dog

    Bold move flies in the face of GOP obstructionism.

    December 12, 2012 10:41 pm at 10:41 pm |
  19. Robrob

    Bi-partisanship!

    December 12, 2012 10:43 pm at 10:43 pm |
  20. Chuck

    That would be a good pick. Once of the few GOPers I have much respect for.

    December 12, 2012 10:43 pm at 10:43 pm |
  21. Phattee

    I assume the mere act of meeting with Obama officially makes him persona non grata among the TGOP crowd?

    December 12, 2012 10:46 pm at 10:46 pm |
  22. KEVIN2121961

    Good choice. The Joint Cheifs of Staff need a Secretary of Defense who knows how to focus on the bottom line. When it comes down to brass tacks, the military is seperate from politics and should be.

    December 12, 2012 10:46 pm at 10:46 pm |
  23. reply

    Let us not find the most qualified person–let us make sure we have diversity! In the business world, I've never cared if a person was white, black, brown, purple, yellow, or from Mars. GREEN (dollars) is what counts–the revenue the person brings in (guess I'm not political correct). Well, anyways, this is all Bush's fault or the YouTube video.

    December 12, 2012 10:55 pm at 10:55 pm |
  24. james

    Senator Hagel is a good man and decent politician. He is a rare find these days; a sane, moderate member of the GOP who puts the country ahead of the party

    December 12, 2012 10:57 pm at 10:57 pm |
  25. Leslie

    I have always liked him...great choice!

    December 12, 2012 11:05 pm at 11:05 pm |
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