Republican Chuck Hagel, who President Barack Obama was expected to name defense secretary Monday, would be hostile to Israel, said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
Hagel -- a former senator from Nebraska who received the Purple Heart twice for wounds while an infantry squad leader in the Vietnam War -- "would be the most antagonistic secretary of defense toward the state of Israel in our nation's history," Graham told CNN's "State of the Union."
"He has long severed his ties with the Republican Party," Graham said. "This is an in-your-face nomination by the president to all of us who are supportive of Israel. I don't know what his management experience is regarding the Pentagon -- little, if any -- so I think it's an incredibly controversial choice."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told the NBC News program "Meet the Press," "I think it will be a lot of tough questions of Sen. Hagel, but he'll be treated fairly by Republicans in the Senate."
Besides publicly doubting his support for Israel, Republicans said they questioned Hagel's seriousness about the Iranian nuclear threat and his commitment to an adequate defense budget.
Some Democrats have said they are wary of comments Hagel made in 1998, when he questioned whether "openly, aggressively gay" James Hormel was appropriate to be President Bill Clinton's ambassador to Luxembourg.
Hagel apologized for that comment last month, saying he also supported gays in the military -- a policy he once opposed.
Hagel was first elected to the Senate in 1996. He was re-elected in 2002, retired in 2009 and now teaches at Georgetown University.
He is also chairman of the Atlantic Council foreign policy group and co-chairman of Obama's Intelligence Advisory Board.
While a senator, he broke with many in his party on the Foreign Relations Committee to criticize the management of the Iraq war after initially supporting the U.S.-led invasion.
"A lot of Republican opposition is rooted in the fact that he left his party on Iraq," a senior administration official told The Washington Post. "And we think it will be very hard for Republicans to stand up and be able to say that they oppose someone who was against a war that most Americans think was a horrible idea."
Hagel is also a strong advocate for veterans, a key issue as tens of thousands of U.S. troops return from battlefields after more than a decade of war, the official said.
This makes Hagel "uniquely qualified" to help wind down the war in Afghanistan by the end of 2014 and to make budget decisions to support the returning troops, the official said.
Hagel, 66, would replace Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who is retiring to his home in California.
If confirmed, Hagel would be the second Republican in Obama's Cabinet, after Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
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