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. JOE B

    Good to see a Republican being considered for the position. I can't remember the last a Republican nominated a Democrat for a position. I am a Republican and appreciate President Obama's willingness to work with both sides of the aisle. It's certainly refreshing to see.

    December 12, 2012 11:09 pm at 11:09 pm |
  2. huskersrock1

    Payoff for supporting Bob Kerry.

    December 12, 2012 11:09 pm at 11:09 pm |
  3. popseal

    Another RINO weenie ingratiates himself to his future golfing pals when they all retire to $$$$$$ condo's$$$$$ in that opulent gated community......next door to Jeremiah Wright.........on the tax payer's ticket.......no Social Security or Obamacare for them.................dirt bags!

    December 12, 2012 11:13 pm at 11:13 pm |
  4. dyannne

    He's a reasonable Republican. Not a tea party type. I would approve him in this role.

    December 12, 2012 11:24 pm at 11:24 pm |
  5. Joann street

    The President is a very smart man, if he is comfortable with Hagel, then bring him aboard!

    December 12, 2012 11:26 pm at 11:26 pm |
  6. empresstrudy

    Israel haters should be cheering. Hagel is always ranked at the bottom for support for Israel.

    December 12, 2012 11:27 pm at 11:27 pm |
  7. Paul

    I have a ton of respect for Senator Hagel.
    Many times he demonstrated that he cares more for what is best for our country than what would score him or others political points.

    December 12, 2012 11:28 pm at 11:28 pm |
  8. Blackflag

    Uncompromising socialist liberal Obama! This must be some kind of trick. I am tuning into Fox News right now so they can explain this tomfoolery in a way that fits my deeply distorted political viewpoint.

    December 12, 2012 11:33 pm at 11:33 pm |
  9. Sam

    Why is it always assumed that only Republicans can handle the military? Since 1951, we've had 10 years of Democrat secretaries of defense, and 51 years of GOP SoDs; even though we've had 25 years of Democratic presidents and only 36 years of GOP presidents.

    If we wanted a GOP vision for our military, we could have voted for John McCain. For once let's get a different perspective.

    December 12, 2012 11:33 pm at 11:33 pm |
  10. Blackflag

    Uncompromising socialist liberal Obama! This must be some kind of trick. I am tuning into Fox News right now so they can explain this tomfoolery in a way that fits with my completely manipulated political views.

    December 12, 2012 11:33 pm at 11:33 pm |
  11. UVikingsLost

    Chuck Hagel would be an excellent choice for Secretary of Defense.

    December 12, 2012 11:40 pm at 11:40 pm |
  12. Anonymous

    Chuck Hagel has spoken with a forked tongue. I supported him based on his policies when he first ran in Nebraska. He switched parties and has been a big suck-up to Obama. I do not trust this man at all. To say he is a Republican is not true at all. So, let's not advertise that he is because he is NOT.

    December 12, 2012 11:41 pm at 11:41 pm |
  13. gwats

    If there is such a thing as a 'Good Republican' Sen Hagel is it. If the President wants him, I'm good with that.

    December 12, 2012 11:43 pm at 11:43 pm |
  14. Dave

    Good call!!

    December 12, 2012 11:44 pm at 11:44 pm |
  15. kols

    I would be very pleased to see Chuck Hagel as Defense Secretary. He is very knowledgeable on foreign policy issues.

    December 13, 2012 12:08 am at 12:08 am |
  16. J.V.Hodgson

    Hagel at defense is almost a certainty. Kerry will have for now to Hold his senate roles until 2014.
    Regards,
    Hodgson.

    December 13, 2012 12:09 am at 12:09 am |
  17. Thom's Thumb

    Mostly a rehash of previously reported material.

    December 13, 2012 12:13 am at 12:13 am |
  18. Brian_pdx

    Condoleeza Rice lied repeatedly and knowingly about WMDs in Iraq where tens of thousands died and Ambassador Rice reads some talking points. Republicans love Condoleeza and crucify the Democrat Rice. What a bunch of frigging lying hypocrites the republicans really are.

    December 13, 2012 12:19 am at 12:19 am |
  19. pheaniques

    getting set-up to be a scapegoat is the only contest in which he is a "front-runner" ...Gut the military...check, Turn the Arab world into a powder-keg...check, Appoint someone to take the blame...Check and Check...This guy must not be very bright

    December 13, 2012 12:21 am at 12:21 am |
  20. Anonymous

    Chuck Hagel is a fantastic choice roll him into the role

    December 13, 2012 12:21 am at 12:21 am |
  21. gjedidiah

    Smart move

    December 13, 2012 12:22 am at 12:22 am |
  22. ^^^***^^^

    i liked Gates until i watched The Invisible War which calls attention to little-known facts about the high prevalence of rape within the ranks of America's armed forces. Interviews with military personnel, elected officials and rape victims provide alarming evidence. i was appalled. and after years of trying to figure out why we still have to deal with rape in this country the way that we do, i get it. men hate women and the military promotes it. hopefully they will find someone with a clue. and stop treating our own like they do.

    December 13, 2012 12:23 am at 12:23 am |
  23. meetings with not-as remarkable men

    He looks like an upstanding young man, I think he might do, then he took off his hat and imagine that... him ....working for you. signs, signs, everywhere signs!

    December 13, 2012 12:30 am at 12:30 am |
  24. Mary Vogel

    So Nebraska FINALLY gets rid of this guy and now he's secretary of defense. Might want to really look into his background and how he made his money.

    December 13, 2012 12:31 am at 12:31 am |
  25. Anonymous

    Yes i agree with allthree choice that ispick for the three prosition hope it works J.T

    December 13, 2012 12:33 am at 12:33 am |
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