A nomination battle is brewing on Capitol Hill after multiple reports that Chuck Hagel, the former Republican Senator and Vietnam combat veteran, is expected to be nominated as Secretary of Defense by President Obama.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the announcement could come as early as Monday even though White House officials said Friday afternoon that the president hadn’t yet formally offered the job to Hagel.
A White House spokesperson told NBC that the "chatter" claiming that the president had decided on Hagel is "premature" but acknowledged the former Senator from Nebraska is a "leading contender" to replace outoging secretary Leon Panetta.
The pick would likely spark a battle between Conservatives opposed to Hagel over several comments he's made about Israel and Iran.
Conservatives in Washington were upset by his 2008 comment that he wasn't intimidated by the "Jewish lobby" like his fellow lawmakers.
Hagel has also faced criticism from conservatives for voting against renewing the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act in 2001 and also against designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization in 2007, reports Fox News.
"I appreciate and respect Senator Hagel's record of service to our country, especially as a decorated combat veteran," Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) told Foreign Policy magazine's The Cable blog.
"While he has not yet been nominated, I am concerned about his past record and statements, particularly with regard to Iran and the US.-Israel relationship," Kirk said. "Should he be nominated to serve as Secretary of Defense, I will join my colleagues on both sides of the aisle in a rigorous examination of these and other issues of concern."
It's not just conservatives who have issues with Hagel. Log Cabin Republicans and some Democrats were upset after he called a potential US ambassador to Luxemburg unfit to represent the country because he was "openly, aggressively gay." Hagel made the comments back in 1998 and has since apologized.
President Obama has praised Hagel and David Axelrod, Obama's political adviser, defended Hagel's nomination on MSNBC's Morning Joe.
“It speaks to the larger problem that we’re talking about, which is, we have to get the point, where, first of all, independence is admired and not discouraged, and we can disagree on some things and still work together on others,” Axelrod said.
“And the notion that we demonize people because of a position that they’ve taken and disqualify them on that basis is what’s destroying the ability to get things done in this town.”
The Cable reports that in addition to Hagel, the White House successfully vetted other candidates for the Defense post including Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy.
Flournoy worked in the Pentagon under both Clinton and Obama but retired last February to spend more time with her children. The Los Angeles Times reported that she would be the first female in the male-dominated Pentagon's top spot.
Flournoy, a Democrat, is well respected and liked on both sides of the aisle.
"Michele has this charisma about her," Janine Davidson, who worked for Flournoy at the Pentagon from 2009 to 2012, told the LA Times.
"When she is in the room at the head of a table with all these generals and admirals … and she speaks — boom, everyone turns and listens. She has sort of a regal sense about her. She doesn't have to scream or yell."
The other potential nominee, Ashton Carter, would also likely be an easier nomination for the White House. Carter, 58, has been a top lieutenant to the past two secretaries of defense and has the support of many in Congress, reports the Boston Globe.
“Carter is a sleeper brand waiting to hit the market big,” a top Pentagon official told the Globe.
“He may not have household name recognition in Middle America . . . but he’s got the full mix of talents to be the next secretary. He’s well known for his procurement and budget expertise, and over the years, he’s also developed strong relationships with senior military leaders and the Hill.”