Washington (CNN) – A senior administration official offered some sharp pushback Monday on Sen. Lindsey Graham's comments about the president's choice in Chuck Hagel for Defense Secretary.
Graham made headlines Sunday when he blasted Hagel as an "in-your-face" choice during an interview on CNN's "State of the Union." The South Carolina senator labeled Hagel a "controversial" pick by President Obama and didn't rule out staging a filibuster to prevent a vote on Hagel's nomination.
"Hagel, if confirmed to be secretary of defense, would be the most antagonistic secretary of defense towards the state of Israel in our nation's history," Graham told CNN Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley.
Hagel, who served as a Republican senator from Nebraska, has taken heat for going against those in his own party on matters of foreign policy. He's known for opposing troop surges in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as opposing unilateral sanctions against Iran.
A senior administration official expressed doubt that Graham's comments will likely turn into action during the Senate confirmation hearings.
"It's one thing to posture on a talk show, it's another thing to look a two-term Senator in the eye…and say I'm voting against you because you turned against the war in Iraq," the official said.
Were the Republicans to block the nomination, the official continued, it would reflect "a party this so far in the wilderness, I don't see them getting out soon."
On Iran, the official noted that Hagel has opposed unilateral sanctions as a principle, but that he has supported multilateral sanctions on Iran.
Graham wasn't the only senator voicing concern on Sunday. Though softer in his tone, McConnell said Hagel would get a "thorough vetting" during confirmation hearings.
"Whoever is nominated for secretary of defense is going to have to have a full understanding of our close relationship with our Israeli allies, the Iranian threat, and the importance of having a robust military," McConnell said on ABC's "This Week." "So whoever that is I think will be given a thorough vetting. And if Sen. Hagel is nominated, he'll be subjected to the same kinds of review of his credentials as anyone else."
The official noted McConnell's 2008 floor speech recognizing Hagel's retirement, in which McConnell said Hagel had a "clear voice on foreign policy and national security" and credited him "as a leading voice in foreign affairs."
"A lot of these guys gave wonderful quotes about (Hagel) when he retired," the source said.