Hagel said to be Obama choice for defense secretary in new term

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President Barack Obama plans to name former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel as his choice to be the nation's next defense secretary early next week, according to a person familiar with the cabinet-selection process.

The announcement of Obama's decision to nominate Hagel to replace Defense Secretary Leon Panetta may come as soon as Jan. 7, the day after the president returns from his vacation in Hawaii, said the person, who asked not to be named to discuss personnel decisions.

Hagel would be the second member of Obama's national security and foreign policy team to be named for the administration's second term. In December, the president said he will nominate Massachusetts Senator John Kerry to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state.

No final decision has been made on the top Pentagon job, according to an Obama administration official, who asked to not be named in discussing personnel matters. White House National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor declined to comment.

Hagel, 66, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, has been discussed as the leading candidate for the job for more than a month and his possible nomination has drawn opposition from an ad hoc coalition of Republican advocates of muscular defense policies, Democratic supporters of Israel and gay-rights activists.

He opposed the troop surge during the Iraq war under President George W. Bush, questioned unilateral economic sanctions against Iran and called the defense budget "bloated." Hagel also come under fire for citing the influence of the "Jewish lobby" on behalf of Israel. He apologized last month for remarks he made in 1998 about the prospect of a US ambassador, who he called "openly, aggressively gay."

"˜Deep concern'

Senator Lindsey Graham said Dec. 30 he sees "very little Republican support" for a Hagel nomination, saying on "Fox News Sunday" that there is "wide and deep concern" among members of both parties in Congress about his views on Iran sanctions and Israel. Graham, of South Carolina, said he wasn't prepared to block the nomination so far.

Obama defended Hagel in an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press" broadcast the same day. While saying he hadn't made a decision about who to nominate for defense, Obama said there is nothing that would disqualify Hagel for the job.

"He's a patriot, he's a somebody who has done extraordinary work in the United States Senate and somebody who served this country with valor in Vietnam," Obama said. "And is somebody who is currently serving on my intelligence advisory board and doing an outstanding job."

Cabinet posts

Hagel, a Nebraska Republican, also is being supported by a bipartisan group of former US national security advisers made up of James L. Jones, Brent Scowcroft, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Frank Carlucci.

He has told friends that he's eager to tackle the job and confident that he can win Senate confirmation if he's nominated.

Panetta, 74, has indicated he won't serve in Obama's second term.

Among his tasks as he prepares for a second term is making decisions on decisions on several top Cabinet posts, including replacing Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, who has indicated he plans to leave the administration by the end of the month.

Cabinet officers are subject to Senate confirmation.

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