WASHINGTON — Arkansas Sens. Mark Pryor and John Boozman were withholding judgment Monday on President Obama’s latest choice to lead the Department of Defense.
In separate statements, the two lawmakers provided no immediate opinion about the choice of former Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., to replace Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
“I am looking to forward a fair confirmation process and learning more about Senator Hagel’s views and exploring if he is the best person to lead the Department of Defense,” said Boozman, a Republican.
“All cabinet nominees deserve fair consideration and a high threshold of review, and Senator Hagel is no different. As the Senate confirmation process moves forward, we need to thoroughly analyze his suitability, qualifications, and temperament for this position,” said Pryor, a Democrat.
Hagel, who would be the first Vietnam veteran to lead the military, had drawn sharp “pre-nomination” criticism from conservatives — including Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle — over his opposition to the Iraq war.
Cotton, a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, wrote a column opposing Hagel that was published earlier this month in the Wall Street Journal. When news outlets began reporting Sunday that Hagel would be nominated, Cotton tweeted that it was a “grievous mistake.”
“I am disappointed the President has nominated Mr. Hagel,” Cotton said during an appearance Sunday on ABC “This Week” with George Stephanopoulos.
Cotton is urging the Senate against confirming Hagel because of his opposition to the war in Iraq and what Cotton described as “dangerous views” on Iran, Hezbollah and terrorism as well as his “strange hostility towards Israel.”
The House has no official role in confirming presidential nominations.
In an interview published Monday by the Journal Star in Lincoln, Neb., Hagel said that critics have distorted his record. In particular, he said there is “not one shred of evidence” that he is anti-Israel.
“I am very much looking forward to have a full, open, transparent hearing about my qualifications and my record.”
In nominating Hagel, President Obama said Monday that he “is the leader that our troops deserve.”
Hagel enlisted in the Army and volunteered to serve in Vietnam, where he was injured in combat, Obama noted.
“Chuck knows that war is not an abstraction. He understands that sending young Americans to fight and bleed in the dirt and mud, that’s something we only do when it’s absolutely necessary,” he said.
Obama said he also admired Hagel for his courage, judgment and willingness, as a member of the Senate, to speak his mind.
The Senate Armed Services Committee will be responsible for holding Hagel’s confirmation hearing.