U.S. senators from Indiana will be in the middle of debates over President Obama’s nominations to lead the Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency.
Democrat Joe Donnelly, who took office last week, is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which will conduct confirmation hearings on former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Obama’s pick to run the Pentagon.
Republican Sen. Dan Coats is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which will have hearings on John Brennan, the president’s choice for CIA director.
Obama announced the nominations Monday, but resistance has been building since Hagel’s name surfaced late last year. His foes portray Hagel as being soft on Iran, only a lukewarm supporter of Israel and an advocate of military budget cuts. Brennan will have to explain his once-stated support for harsh interrogation practices that some consider torture.
In an emailed statement, Donnelly said only that he looks forward to reviewing Hagel’s record and qualifications. But in a telephone interview, Coats make it clear he is unimpressed with Obama’s selections.
Hagel has been “hostile to the Department of Defense and hostile to military leadership and hostile to some of his former colleagues” in the Senate, Coats said. And Coats was critical of Brennan because of “devastating” intelligence leaks at the White House, where Brennan has been Obama’s adviser on homeland security and counterterrorism.
Coats has condemned the Obama administration for leaking details last year about an al-Qaida attack plot and the U.S. raid that killed 9/11 planner Osama bin Laden.
Coats stopped short Monday of saying he will vote against the nominations, which require the approval of two-thirds of the Senate, where Democrats have a 55-45 majority.
“I think they deserve the opportunity to come and sit down and eyeball you and answer tough questions,” he said about Hagel and Brennan. “So I’m not going to draw a hard line on either one of those at this point, but I do have serious reservations about both.”
Other GOP lawmakers who have expressed doubts about Hagel include Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio, John McCain of Arizona and Lindsay Graham of South Carolina. The Associated Press noted a “tepid response” Monday on his nomination from Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer of New York and Ben Cardin of Maryland.
A Vietnam War veteran who was awarded two Purple Hearts, Hagel, 66, would replace Leon Panetta at the Pentagon. Panetta has said he wants to retire to his California home after decades in public service.
Hagel was a senator from 1997 through 2008 and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
In 2006, he described pro-Israeli Americans as “the Jewish lobby” and said: “I’m not an Israeli senator. I’m a U.S. senator.” He has been scorned for seeking a “pragmatic” approach toward Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that commands the Gaza Strip, and for opposing possible U.S. or Israeli military intervention against Iran over its insistence to develop a nuclear program.
“Because of his statements in the past, and his stance toward Israel, we are worried,” Reuven Rivlin, the speaker of the Israeli parliament and a member of Netanyahu’s Likud Party, told The Associated Press on Monday.
In 1998, Hagel angered gay-rights advocates when he objected to President Bill Clinton’s nomination of James Hormel as ambassador to Luxembourg. Hagel said at the time that “it is an inhibiting factor to be gay – openly, aggressively gay like Mr. Hormel – to do an effective job.”
Brennan, 57, is a 25-year CIA veteran. He withdrew from consideration for the agency’s top post in 2008 amid questions about his connection to interrogation techniques used during the George W. Bush administration. In the Obama White House, he helped end the interrogation program.
Brennan would replace Michael Morrel, the CIA’s deputy director, who has been acting director since David Petraeus resigned in November after admitting to an affair with his biographer.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.