Obama picks security team
BY JULIE PACE Associated Press
Tuesday, January 08, 2013
1/08/13 at 6:51 AM
WASHINGTON - Despite Republican misgivings, President Barack Obama announced Monday he will nominate former GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel as his next defense secretary, calling him "the leader our troops deserve." He also chose White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan to lead the Central Intelligence Agency.
Controversy surrounds both choices, but the president called on the Senate to quickly confirm both.
"The work of protecting our nation is never done. We've got much to do," Obama said at the East Room announcement. "My most solemn obligation is the security of our people."
Obama announced his choice of Hagel, a political moderate who represented Nebraska in the Senate, even as critics questioned the pick over issues including Hagel's views on Israel and Iran.
Facing a potential fight to get Hagel confirmed by the Senate, Obama praised his independence and bipartisan approach, and said that Hagel, a Vietnam veteran, understands war is not an abstraction. He also praised Hagel, 66, as one who could make "tough fiscal choices" in a time of increasing austerity.
One of Hagel's toughest critics, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called his former colleague's foreign policy views "outside the mainstream" and said he would be "the most antagonistic secretary of defense toward the state of Israel in our nation's history."
Perhaps even more concerning for Hagel's prospects has been the tepid response from some Democrats. Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York said Hagel had earned the right to a full and fair confirmation hearing, but he reserved judgment on whether he would back him. And Maryland's Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin said he and other lawmakers "have questions that have to be answered" specifically on Hagel's views on Iran and Israel.
Brennan, 57, a 25-year CIA veteran, is a close Obama adviser who has served in his present post for four years.
The president praised him as one of America's most skilled and respected intelligence professionals. Obama said Brennan and Hagel understand that "the work of protecting our nation is never done."
For Brennan, Monday's nomination represents a second chance at the spy agency's top job after his withdrawal from consideration in 2008.
In a letter to Obama at that time, Brennan said he was "a strong opponent of many of the policies of the Bush administration, such as the pre-emptive war in Iraq and coercive interrogation tactics, to include waterboarding."
White House officials say they don't expect Brennan to face similar trouble this time around given his four years of service in the Obama administration.
"The issue has been removed from the debate because the president and John Brennan, as his top counterterrorism adviser, brought those techniques to an end," said Ben Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security adviser.
But some lawmakers and outside groups aren't as easily convinced. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., issued a statement about Brennan saying he had "many questions and concerns about his nomination to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency, especially what role he played in the so-called enhanced interrogation programs while serving at the CIA during the last administration, as well as his public defense of those programs."
Brennan's nomination will also put a spotlight on the administration's controversial drone program. He was the first Obama administration official to publicly acknowledge the highly secretive targeted killing operations, defending the legality of the overseas program and crediting it with protecting American lives and preventing potential terror attacks.
The American Civil Liberties Union voiced its concerns over Brennan's nomination Monday, saying the Senate should not move forward until it is clear the nominee "will end its targeted killing program."
Brennan would replace Michael Morell, the CIA's deputy director who has been acting director since David Petraeus resigned in November after admitting to an affair with his biographer. Hagel would replace retiring Pentagon chief Leon Panetta.
Hagel, in brief remarks, thanked Obama "for this opportunity to serve this country again, especially its men and women in uniform. ... These are people who give so much to this nation every day."
Hagel voted for U.S. military involvement in the Iraq war at first but later opposed it. He broke ranks with other Republicans to support Obama for president in 2008.
President Barack Obama and his choice for defense secretary, former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel (left), listen as the president's nominee for CIA director, John Brennan (right), who is deputy national security adviser for homeland security and counterterrorism, speaks in the East Room of the White House in Washington on Monday. CAROLYN KASTER / Associated Press