Former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel has emerged as the leading candidate to become Obama’s next Secretary of Defense and may be nominated as soon as this month, according to two people familiar with the matter.
Hagel, who served as an enlisted Army infantryman in Vietnam, has passed the vetting process at the White House Counsel’s office, said one of the people. The former Nebraska senator has told associates that he is awaiting final word from the president, said the other person. Both requested anonymity to discuss personnel matters.
Other contenders are Michele Flournoy, former defense undersecretary for policy, and Ashton Carter, deputy defense secretary, administration officials have said.
Obama invited Hagel to the White House on Dec. 4 to discuss the position with him, according to an administration official.
The president hasn’t made a final decision, said another official. Both asked for anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney today declined to comment on whether Obama is considering Hagel, saying only that the two-term former lawmaker was widely respected.
As Obama contemplates how to organize his national security team for his second term, he is weighing how the personalities, including Hagel, 66, will work with each other. In addition to defense, the president has at least three, and potentially four, positions to fill in the security area.
To succeed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as the nation’s top diplomat, the president is weighing whether to nominate Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, or Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts. Obama also is considering Rice to head the White House National Security Council, which is currently led by Tom Donilon. Another opening is at the Central Intelligence Agency, where David H. Petraeus resigned last month following the revelation of an extramarital affair.
Hagel “has the political skills to navigate some really treacherous waters,” said former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey.
“He’ll enjoy wide respect in the military himself and, for a civilian leader, that’s important.”
“He enjoys the confidence of the president and has a good relationship with the Senate,” he said. “He stayed very close to the current operational needs of the military.”