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Obama Touts Hagel as 'Patriot', 'Doing Extraordinary Work'

President Obama defended former Sen. Chuck Hagel's record on Sunday, rebuffing attacks on the potential nominee for defense secretary.
By Rachel Hirshfeld
First Publish: 12/31/2012, 2:47 AM

President Obama and Chuck Hagel
President Obama and Chuck Hagel
Reuters

President Obama defended former Sen. Chuck Hagel's (R-Neb.) record on Sunday, rebuffing attacks on the potential nominee for defense secretary.

"I've served with Chuck Hagel. I know him.  He is a patriot," Obama said in an interview that aired Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press." "He is somebody who has done extraordinary work both in the United States Senate, somebody who served this country with valor in Vietnam.  And is somebody who's currently serving on my intelligence advisory board and doing an outstanding job."

Hagel, who is believed to be Obama's top choice to replace Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, has come under widespread and intense criticism from the predominant Jewish community, which has lambasted his lax policies on Iran, his stance on Israel, and his comments regarding the "Jewish lobby" trying to influence legislators.

The Republican Jewish Coalition, along with countless others, has cited a long list of Hagel’s anti-Israel policies, asserting that his nomination would “be a slap in the face for every American who is concerned about the safety of Israel.”

"I think a lot of Republicans and Democrats are very concerned about Chuck Hagel's positions on Hamas and Hezbollah, and that there is wide and deep concern about his policies. All of us like him as a person," Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said on Fox News Sunday.

"There would be very little Republican support for his nomination, at the end of the day, there will be very few votes," added Graham.

Gay rights groups have also opposed the potential Hagel nomination, citing a comment he made 14 years ago in opposition to the nomination of James Hormel, who is homosexual, to serve as ambassador to Luxemborg.

While Obama noted that he has not made a decision yet on whom to nominate to succeed Panetta, the president noted that Hagel had apologized for his comments on Hormel. 

"I think it's a testimony to what has been a positive change over the last decade in terms of people's attitudes about gays and lesbians serving our country," Obama added. "And that's something that I'm very proud to have led.  And I think that anybody who serves in my administration understands my attitude and position on those issues."