The nomination of Hagel, a Republican and a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War, is certain to touch off a heated confirmation fight. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal White House planning.
Even in advance of the official announcement, critics on all sides have complained about the selection, with fellow Republicans leading the charge.
Speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) predicted that Hagel would be “the most antagonistic secretary of Defense toward the state of Israel in our nation’s history” and called it an “in-your-face nomination.”
Fox News senior political analyst Brit Hume described the choice as “very peculiar.” He said on “Fox News Sunday” that Hagel did not have “a particularly distinguished record.”
And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, while promising Hagel would get a “fair hearing,” said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he would get “tough questions” in a confirmation process.
Hagel is viewed with suspicion by many in his party for past comments he has made calling on Israel to negotiate with Palestinians and for his opposition to some sanctions aimed at Iran. Since his possible nomination was floated late last year, he has come under fierce attack by conservatives.
He also has been criticized on the left for a remark he made in 1998 when he called a Clinton administration ambassadorial nominee “openly, aggressively gay.” Hagel recently apologized for that comment, pledging his support for lesbian and gay military families.
Hagel, an Army veteran with two Purple Hearts, said in a recent interview with the history magazine Vietnam: “I’m not a pacifist. I believe in using force, but only after a very careful decision-making process. ... I will do everything I can to avoid needless, senseless war.”