Secretary of Defense Nominee Facing Criticism Over Independent Thinking

(NECN/NBC News: Danielle Leigh) - In many ways, scrutiny over John Brennan is taking a backseat to the criticism Chuck Hagel is facing.

He's described as a man without a party, and his independent thinking has both sides pushing back.

Standing beside his picks for two of the nation's top security positions, President Obama ensured a fight on Capitol Hill: Chuck Hagel for secretary of defense and John Brennan as director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

The president praised former Nebraska Senator Hagel for his independent thinking.

"His willingness to speak mind even if it wasn't popular, even if it defied conventional wisdom -- that's exactly the spirit I want on my national security team,” Obama said.

That very willingness to go against his party is resulting in heat from Senate Republicans.

"This isn't about politics, this isn't about personalities,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R.-Texas). “This is about being wrong on the principle national security issues."
Republicans are attacking Hagel for criticizing the war in Iraq, opposing unilateral sanctions against Iran and making comments seen by some as anti-Israel.

Gay right advocates are also critical: About 14 years ago, Hagel called a U.S. ambassador nominee "openly, aggressively gay.” He has since apologized.

Hagel's supporters describe the decorated Vietnam veteran as uniquely qualified during a time of transition at the Pentagon.

"I believe his experience, his judgment, his deep understanding of security issues facing this country make him the right choice,” said Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

"I will do my best for our country, for those I represent at the pentagon and for all our citizens,” Hagel said.

President Obama had a message for the intelligence community about his pick for CIA director.

"You will have one of your own a leader who knows you, who cares deeply for you and will fight for you every single day,” Obama said.

Both men will face what could be lengthy confirmation hearings in the Senate. Republicans are already promising intense scrutiny of Hagel, in particular.

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