Whoever accepts the nomination to replace Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel should not expect a warm welcome on Capitol Hill.
Republicans will take over the Senate in January, and likely will use a confirmation hearing of the new Pentagon leader as one of their first opportunities to pick apart the White House’s foreign policy and defense spending plans. Although scuttling the pick is unlikely, uncomfortable accusations about President Obama’s defense priorities are a given.
On Monday, just after Hagel’s resignation was made public, Republicans offered praise for the former GOP senator from Nebraska and poured contempt on Obama’s policies.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the expected next chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Hagel faced “excessive micromanagement” from Obama, which limited his ability to succeed.
“Ultimately, the president needs to realize that the real source of his current failures on national security more often lie with his Administration’s misguided policies and the role played by his White House in devising and implementing them,” McCain said in a statement. “That is the real change we need right now.”
Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., called Hagel “a scapegoat for the Administration’s failed policies and relentless pursuit to disarm America.” Outgoing House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., taunted that “when the president goes through three Secretaries, he should ask, ‘Is it them, or is it me?’ ”
Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called this “a moment of great peril for our country” and said lawmakers will be focused on the administration’s plans — and the nominee’s — for modernizing and resetting the military after more than a decade of war.
“It is imperative that the next Secretary of Defense possess a sharp grasp of strategy, a demonstrated ability to think creatively, and the willingness and ability to work with Congress,” McConnell said, revisiting an oft-repeated complaint that Obama and his top deputies have been unwilling to engage with lawmakers on a host of issues.
White House officials on Monday said the search for Hagel’s replacement is already underway, and a nominee is expected to be named quickly.