What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

Obama Set to Name Hagel, Brennan to Top Positions

The Obamas; photo by Dennis Brack/Pool via Getty Images

President Obama walks with daughter Malia ahead of first lady Michelle Obama and daughter Sasha at the White House on Sunday after returning from vacation in Hawaii. Photo by Dennis Brack/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

And we’re back.

With a battle over raising the debt ceiling on the horizon, President Obama also appears to be spoiling for a fight with Republicans in Congress when it comes to filling his Cabinet for his second term.

On Monday, Mr. Obama will nominate Vietnam War veteran and former GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska to serve as secretary of defense and counterterrorism adviser John Brennan to serve as CIA director.

As chatter surrounding the selection of Hagel spread in recent weeks, so too did criticism of the former two-term lawmaker by some GOP senators who questioned Hagel’s views toward Israel and Iran.

During an appearance Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Hagel’s positions over the years would be subject to close scrutiny.

“I think there will be a lot of tough questions for Sen. Hagel, but he will be treated fairly by Republicans in the Senate,” McConnell said.

In a 2008 speech marking Hagel’s retirement, McConnell praised him as “a clear voice on foreign policy and national security.”

But the Republican leader said on ABC’s “This Week” that Hagel had been “outspoken” on those issues over the years: “The question we will be answering, if he’s the nominee, is do his views make sense for that particular job? I think he ought to be given a fair hearing, like any other nominee, and he will be.”

The No. 2 Republican in the Senate, John Cornyn of Texas, issued a statement Sunday saying he would oppose Hagel’s nomination.

“I will not support Chuck Hagel’s nomination to the Department of Defense. His record and past statements, particularly with respect to rogue nations like Iran, are extremely concerning to me,” Cornyn said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called the pick an “in-your-face nomination by the president” and criticized Hagel as someone who was “outside the mainstream” when it comes to foreign policy.

“Chuck Hagel, if confirmed to be the secretary of defense, would be the most antagonistic secretary of defense toward the state of Israel in our nation’s history,” Graham said Sunday on CNN. “Not only has he said you should directly negotiate with Iran, sanctions won’t work, that Israel should directly negotiate with the Hamas organization, a terrorist group that lobs thousands of rockets into Israel.”

The powerful conservative Bill Kristol also plans to oppose Hagel’s nomination as part of a strategy to reform Republicanism, Ken Vogel of Politico reports.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., defended Mr. Obama’s choice of Hagel in an interview Sunday.

“Chuck Hagel was a Republican senator from Nebraska, a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War, a person that includes service on the foreign relations committee as well as the intelligence committee,” Durbin said. “Yes, he is a serious candidate if the president chooses to name him.”

Mr. Obama praised Hagel’s record in an interview with NBC last week.

“I’ve served with Chuck Hagel. I know him. He is a patriot,” Mr. Obama said. “He is somebody who has done extraordinary work both in the United States Senate, somebody who served this country with valor in Vietnam, and is somebody who’s currently serving on my Intelligence Advisory Board and doing an outstanding job.”

The decision to push forward with the Hagel nomination comes as Mr. Obama also attempts to maneuver rocky terrain with Republicans in Congress following the tumultuous fiscal cliff negotiations and with hefty debates over deficit reduction, immigration and gun policy ahead in the coming weeks and months.

While Mr. Obama enters a second term with some political capital to spend, the question is whether he has enough to advance all the key pieces of his agenda. And if the answer is no, then the question becomes where does he cut first.

On Friday’s NewsHour, Ray Suarez examined the challenges facing Hagel and the president.

Watch the segment here or below:

As for Brennan, Politico’s Josh Gerstein reports that the Obama administration is working to fend off potential attacks from those on the left who derailed his potential nomination four years ago:

Brennan has been deeply involved in the Obama administration’s aggressive use of drones to kill suspected terrorists in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere. He was reportedly considered as a possible CIA director at the outset of Obama’s first term but took his name out of the running after liberals charged that he was complicit in waterboarding and other tough interrogation tactics that President George W. Bush’s administration used against terror suspects.

In what appears to be an effort to assuage civil liberties groups and other activists who spoke out against Brennan four years ago, the White House underscored that he has worked to make sure that counterterrorism efforts are closely monitored, conducted according to legal principles and as transparent as feasible.


The Morning Line took a little holiday at the end of the year, but news didn’t stop.

The NewsHour had you covered, from the fiscal cliff drama to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s condition after experiencing a blood clot to the return of Congress.


Much has been made of the 12 Republican votes not to christen House Speaker John Boehner for a second term leading his chamber. In what was widely dubbed a close call for the Ohio Republican, a handful of his party’s rank-and-file members either went with someone else or abstained from voting.

Those defectors didn’t back Democrat Nancy Pelosi, by the way, so it’s not as if Boehner’s role was ever truly in jeopardy. And while we’re keeping a close eye on what may have been a scrapped “coup” on Boehner’s speakership, there’s a number that matters more in this scenario than 12.

That would be 85: the number of Republican “yes” votes to raise taxes in the fiscal cliff compromise. Of that group, 17 won’t be around for the next round of fighting over the debt ceiling because they have either retired or lost their seats last year. Most of them hail from states where moderate Republicans perform better — California, Illinois and New York — or were considered centrists in the party.

Another handful of the Republican “yes” votes came from members in marginal districts who survived tough re-election bids in 2012 or from members who are big Democratic targets in the 2014 midterm elections.

Counting retired Rep. David Dreier, R-Calif., 13 of Boehner’s 21 chairmen backed the bill.

Some Republicans are griping that Boehner will be in serious trouble if he keeps violating the principle that only bills that can garner the majority of the majority party’s votes should be brought to the floor. But he has made clear that his loyal soldiers will be protected and that he’s willing to boot some of his rivals from committees.

Boehner told his caucus in a closed-door meeting last week that he plans a real faceoff with Mr. Obama to insist on spending cuts, a source in the room told the Morning Line. Boehner outlined a poll of 1,000 registered voters taken at the end of the year by the Winston Group that showed 72 percent believed “any increase in the nation’s debt limit must be accompanied by spending cuts and reforms of a greater amount,” the source said.

The speaker, described as speaking “grimly” and looking “weary,” told Wall Street Journal columnist Stephen Moore, “I need this job like I need a hole in the head.”

As for that “coup” Boehner avoided Thursday, Roll Call’s Jonathan Strong has lots more detail of what he calls a “concerted effort to unseat” Boehner.

A group of disaffected conservatives had agreed to vote against the Ohio lawmaker if they could get at least 25 members to join the effort. But one member, whose identity could not be verified, rescinded his or her participation the morning of the vote, leaving the group one person short of its self-imposed 25-member threshold. Only 17 votes against Boehner were required to force a second ballot, but the group wanted to have insurance.

Even with 24 members, the group would easily have been able to force a second ballot round, but the effort was aborted in frenetic discussions on the House floor. “There was an effort to get to a particular number,” said one Republican member who voted for Boehner but was familiar with the effort to oust him.

Republican Reps. Justin Amash of Michigan, Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina and Raúl R. Labrador of Idaho played key roles in organizing the plot. But participants describe its origin as organic and not led by any particular member, despite the suggestion by at least one House Republican that Amash was the ringleader.

Strong also reported that Boehner won’t punish those Republicans.

The confirmation fights in the Senate mean attention will be on that chamber, at least for awhile. The House isn’t back in session until the week of the inauguration.


  • The New York Times’ Ashley Parker dives in for a piece on Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., now that he’s back on Capitol Hill.

  • House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., stood by the decision to digitally add four absent members to a photograph of women lawmakers taken outside the Capitol last Thursday.

  • The Washington Post’s Jason Horowitz and Mary Pat Flaherty explore Mormonism and alcohol after Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, pleaded guilty to drunken driving. His driver’s license is suspended for one year, and he was sentenced to a $250 fine and 180 days in jail but will not have to serve.

  • There’s still time to get an inauguration weekend room at the historic Hay-Adams hotel in Washington, writes the Wall Street Journal’s Elizabeth Williamson. As of Friday, the luxury hotel, located across the street from the White House, still had more than two dozen rooms available. Many other D.C.-area hotels and restaurants have vacancies and reservations available as only one-third the record 1.8 million people who traveled to see Mr. Obama inaugurated in 2009 are expected the second time around.

  • Ticketmaster goofed and almost sold too-early tickets to the inaugural festivities.

  • A freshman Republican who bucked Boehner is a veterinarian for large animanls.

  • Talking Points Memo notices that Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Miss., voted against funding for super-storm Sandy relief but pushed for federal aid after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

  • The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker reports on the broad measures — more than just an assault weapons ban — the White House is planning to use to build support for gun violence prevention legislation.

  • New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd cites all-star tweeter and NewsHour presidential historian Michael Beschloss in her Sunday column about Boehner and Vice President Biden on Capitol Hill. His tweet:

  • New Jersey GOP Gov. Chris Christie has raised more than $2 million since annoucing he will seek a second term.

  • Moday’s tidbit from NewsHour partner Face the Facts USA is about water consumption and comes with a nifty video.


  • Congratulations to our very own Terence Burlij, who has been named deputy political editor at the NewsHour. He was a producer.

  • Watch Monday’s NewsHour for Judy Woodruff’s interview with freshman Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican getting national attention. (Here’s our series of interviews with senators-elect.)

  • Mark Shields and David Brooks talked about Hagel on Friday’s program. And here is the Doubleheader, where they chatted with Hari Sreenivasan about Monday night’s Notre Dame-Alabama game.

  • In the year-end Doubleheader, Shields and Brooks made their NFL predictions, and Christina learned how to pronounce “Schatz.”

  • “All eyes are on March 27th,” Cathy Lewis of WHRO in Norfolk, Va., told Jeffrey Brown as we looked at the latest jobs report on Friday’s show. She says her region was left waiting now that sequestration cuts to the defense industry were delayed.

  • The NewsHour took to the streets to speak with taxpayers for their take on the fiscal cliff tax deal.

  • Catch up with the most recent posts of Gwen’s Take and Judy’s Notebook.

  • Beschloss and fellow historian Richard Norton Smith revealed their picks for what should make it into the 2012 chapter in history books.

  • NewsHour correspondents reflected on their favorite stories of 2012.

  • The NewsHour marked the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation with this segment.

  • Politico’s Glenn Thrush and Jonathan Martin stopped by the NewsHour to highlight their e-book and shared anecdotes on the final leg of the presidential election.

  • NewsHour reporter-producer Katelyn Polantz digs up the recent history of the Electoral College, just in time for Congress to confirm its votes for president on Friday.

  • Christina and Shira Toeplitz of Roll Call broke down all the hot congressional races ahead. Watch part one and part two.

  • With former Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., making clear he’d like the interim Senate appointment in Massachusetts, Paul Solman posts a series of outtakes from his interview with the recently retired lawmaker.


Katelyn Polantz and Cassie M. Chew contributed to this report.

For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

Sign up here to receive the Morning Line in your inbox every morning.

Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

Follow the politics team on Twitter: @cbellantoni, @burlij, @elizsummers, @kpolantz, @indiefilmfan, @tiffanymullon, @dePeystah, @meenaganesan and @abbruns.

The Latest