Osage City Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts said Tuesday he won’t support President Barack Obama’s nomination of former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel to lead the Department of Defense.
Roberts describes his fellow Republican as a longtime friend but says they have too many differences on foreign policy and national security. Obama nominated Hagel to replace Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, who is retiring, but he must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
“That’s not my choice. If Chuck Hagel would have called me, my advice to him would have been not to offer up his name,” Roberts said. “There’s a lot of concern about Chuck.”
Before speaking to high school government students in Osage City, Roberts said he and Hagel have differing views on Israel and Iran, among other issues, that factor into his decision.
Sen. Jerry Moran, Kansas’ other Republican senator, said he was “not at all impressed by the nomination.”
“But there is a process now under way to further evaluate the nominee’s suitability for confirmation. I look forward to fair and rigorous hearings on this issue,” Moran said.
Hagel has drawn criticism for his remarks referring to pro-Israeli interests as “the Jewish lobby” and suggesting they hold too much sway in Washington. He has also called for direct negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program and suggested that Iran be at the table during negotiations on peace in Afghanistan.
Roberts called Hagel a “very good friend,” noting that they served on the Senate Intelligence Committee together, but he said the Nebraskan’s views on the Middle East were troubling.
Roberts didn’t know if Hagel’s nomination could get through the Senate.
“That’s tough for me because I know him, he’s a personal friend, but I don’t think he’s well-suited for that position,” said Roberts, a former Marine.
While he didn’t offer any alternative candidates for the post, Roberts did say that Panetta was doing a good job, but he knew that he was growing tired of the post.
“That’s a tough job right now,” Roberts said.
If confirmed, Hagel would be the first enlisted man to ascend to the level of secretary of defense. He served as a private and sergeant during Vietnam and received two purple hearts, experience that Roberts said worked in Hagel’s favor in arguing for the nomination.