Republican lawmakers voiced staunch opposition Sunday to their former colleague Chuck Hagel, who is expected to be nominated next week to be President Barack Obama's next secretary of defense.
Hagel has taken withering criticism from Republicans and Democrats alike since his name was first floated as a potential successor to current Defense Secretary Leon Panetta more than a month ago. Republicans have struck upon comments in a 2007 interview that some perceive as anti-Jewish, when Hagel said the "Jewish lobby intimidated lawmakers."
They've also lambasted positions Hagel took as a GOP senator, including his opposition to unilateral sanctions against Iran, as well as votes opposing the labeling of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization. He also opposed the "surge" of troops in Iraq favored by then-President George W. Bush and members of his administration.
On Sunday, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said on CNN's "State of the Union" that Hagel was a "controversial" choice by Obama. Graham didn't rule out staging a filibuster to prevent a vote on Hagel's nomination.
"Hagel, if confirmed to be secretary of defense, would be the most antagonistic secretary of defense towards the state of Israel in our nation's history," Graham told CNN chief political correspondent Candy Crowley.
Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican freshman from Texas elected with strong backing from the tea party, said on "Fox News Sunday" that it was "very difficult to imagine a circumstance in which I could support (Hagel's) confirmation."
"It's interesting, the president seems bound and determined to proceed down this path despite the fact that Hagel's record is very, very troubling on the nation of Israel," Cruz said. "He has not been a friend to Israel. And in my view the United States should stand unshakably with Israel."
Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, was softer in his tone toward Hagel, saying the former senator from Nebraska would receive a "thorough vetting" just like any other presidential nominee.
"Whoever is nominated for secretary of defense is going to have to have a full understanding of our close relationship with our Israeli allies, the Iranian threat, and the importance of having a robust military," McConnell said on ABC's "This Week." "So whoever that is I think will be given a thorough vetting. And if Sen. Hagel is nominated, he'll be subjected to the same kinds of review of his credentials as anyone else."
Graham similarly said that Hagel's nomination hearings would be influential in determining the way he will ultimately vote, conceding it was possible that some of the comments being used to criticize Hagel could have been used out of context.
"But when you put all the statements together, you have somebody who is very antagonistic towards the state of Israel and the issues we jointly face," Graham said on CNN.
While there has been no official announcement that Hagel is the nominee, the White House has told some senior members of Congress to expect it, a knowledgeable source told CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger.
Obama's decision to tap Hagel for the top Defense post, along with his firm refusal to negotiate on raising the federal debt ceiling, were signals of a pugnacious four years ahead, Graham said.
"It looks like the second term of President Obama is going to be an in-your-face term," he said.
Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, agreed that nominating Hagel was not a ho-hum choice by the president.
"It tells me that he not only won the election but he wants to lead this country," Durbin said, also on CNN's "State of the Union." "You know, sitting back here and avoiding any confrontation and any controversy is going to make a weakened presidency. He needs to lead for the good of this nation, and we need to work together and find compromise and consensus in both political parties."