Outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General John Dempsey offered their support to former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) this morning after Hagel endured a difficult confirmation hearing last week in the Senate.
Separately, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid also affirmed his support for Hagel.
Hagel, who President Barack Obama has nominated to replace Panetta, struggled to explain his ideas on key policy issues, and left observers questioning his competence.
Panetta and Dempsey made their comments during a joint interview on CNN’s State of the Union with Candy Crowley. “Is there anything in that hearing that concerned you?” Crowley asked Dempsey, who responded that he thought Hagel had seemed “very thoughtful, very well prepared, and very interested” prior to the confirmation hearing.
“So you all thought he seemed well prepared?” Crowley pressed.
Panetta did not quite answer the question directly: “I think–I know Chuck Hagel, and I think that he’s got good experience with regards to public service,” Panetta said. “He understands the issues in the Defense Department. I think he’ll be a great Secretary of Defense.”
Hagel faced aggressive questioning by Republican members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who pressed him to explain his past statements on nuclear disarmament, Pentagon budgets, Iranian nuclear ambitions, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the co-called “Jewish lobby,” among others.
Hagel tried, often unsuccessfully, to explain contradictions between long-held positions and postures he has adopted more recently, since he emerged as a candidate for the nation’s top defense policy position.
Despite reports that Hagel’s confusion on “containment” of Iran caused diplomatic headaches this weekend, the Obama administration has not backed away from Hagel. On Friday, the White House affirmed its commitment to Hagel’s confirmation, with White House adviser Dan Pfeiffer predicting that Hagel would be confirmed.
At the same time, Republicans began to consider a filibuster, which would require 41 votes and an unusual departure from traditional deference to the president on his Cabinet choices.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid reaffirmed his support for Hagel’s confirmation this morning during an interview on ABC News’ This Week with George Stephanopoulos. He attributed Hagel’s poor showing to the length of the hearings: “Give the guy a break,” Reid said.