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WASHINGTON — Two senators predicted Sunday that former Sen. Chuck Hagel would face a difficult confirmation if nominated by President Obama to be defense secretary.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent who's retiring and wouldn't have a vote, cited Hagel's less-than-hawkish positions on Iran. Lieberman told CNN's "State of the Union" that it would be "a very tough confirmation process," and "there are reasonable questions to ask and that Chuck Hagel will have to answer."
On NBC's "Meet the Press," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said it would be "a challenging nomination."
"I don't think he's going to get many Republican votes," Graham said.
Hagel, 66, is considered the leading candidate to replace Leon Panetta at the Pentagon, although a number of GOP senators have expressed reservations about a nomination. Their concerns largely center on Hagel's past comments about Israel and Iran. Outside groups have suggested that based on Hagel's remarks, he isn't sufficiently supportive of Israel, an important ally in the Middle East.
Opponents point to his votes against sanctions on Iran and letters that Hagel signed, along with ones he declined to add his name to, many of those favored by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the powerful pro-Israel lobby. In August 2006, Hagel refused to sign a letter pressing the European Union to declare Hezbollah a terrorist organization, one of 12 senators who balked. In 2007, he sent a letter to Bush urging talks with Iran.
Hagel, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, has favored diplomacy over military action with Iran, and criticized talk of a strike by either the United States or Israel against Iran.
Lieberman said sanctions are the only way to change Tehran's behavior "short of war." Lieberman said that Hagel had "some very outlying votes" against economic penalties on Iran over its nuclear program.
Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said on ABC's "This Week" that he'll "reserve any judgment until after the hearings we have on confirmation if in fact he is nominated." Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., was non-committal about Hagel, saying she'll see "what happens with these hearings."
Hagel once made reference to the "Jewish lobby" in the United States, a comment that Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., called "inappropriate."
"There's no such thing as a Jewish lobby," McCain said. "There's an Armenian lobby, there's not a Jewish lobby. There's an Israeli lobby. It's called AIPAC, very influential."
At least two other candidates remain under serious consideration — former Pentagon policy chief Michele Flournoy and Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.