By Mike Allen and Darren Samuelsohn
President Barack Obama has settled on Chuck Hagel, a Republican and former U.S. senator from Nebraska, to succeed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, with an announcement expected Monday, Democratic officials tell POLITICO.
The choice of Hagel, who opposed his party on the Iraq War as a senator, is likely to ignite a raucous confirmation battle because several Democratic interest groups and prominent Republicans have voiced strong opposition since Hagel's vetting for the job was reported five weeks ago.(Also on POLITICO: The shortlist for Obama's top jobs)
A Democratic aide described the White House's logic for choosing Hagel, age 66: "Chuck Hagel is a decorated war hero who would be the first enlisted soldier and Vietnam veteran to go on to serve as secretary of defense. He had the courage to break with his party during the Iraq War, and would help bring the war in Afghanistan to an end while building the military we need for the future.
"He has been a champion for troops, veterans and military families through his service at the VA and USO, and his leadership on behalf of the post-9/11 GI Bill. The president knows him well, has traveled with him to Iraq and Afghanistan, trusts him and believes he represents the proud tradition of a strong, bipartisan foreign policy in the United States."
Obama, who arrived back in D.C. Sunday morning, is expected to announce his nomination of Hagel on Monday, as his first public appearance after the continuation of his Hawaii vacation.
Within a few days, and perhaps at the same time as the Hagel announcement, the president is likely to name his successor for former CIA Director David Petraeus. The candidates are John Brennan, White House homeland security and counterterrorism adviser, or Mike Morrell, acting CIA director.
Neoconservative Republicans have rallied against Hagel. More damaging in the Democratic-controlled Senate, pro-Israel groups and gay-rights groups have marshaled opposition.
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