Blumenthal, Murphy welcome nomination of Hagel, calling him strong choice for defense

Connecticut's two senators said Monday that Chuck Hagel is a strong candidate to be the next secretary of defense.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said the former Republican senator from Nebraska has been carefully considered by the president for a critical post in the administration and has a distinguished record of military and public service.

But Blumenthal, D-Conn., said he was reserving judgment until the confirmation hearings.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., also believes Hagel is a strong nominee, said Ben Marter, a spokesman. He has decades of foreign policy experience, is a decorated Vietnam veteran and would be the first enlisted soldier to lead the department, Marter said.

"Sen. Murphy looks forward to the upcoming confirmation process," he said.

Yet other members of Congress sharply criticized President Obama's nomination of Hagel to lead the defense department on Monday because, they believe, he would not be committed to Israel as an ally and would be too soft on Iran.

Obama also nominated counterterrorism adviser John Brennan to lead the Central Intelligence Agency. Brennan, a 25-year veteran of the CIA, was considered for the director's position in 2008 but withdrew his name after questions arose about interrogation techniques used during President George W. Bush administration.

Blumenthal serves on the Armed Services Committee, which will be the first to consider the nominations. He said Hagel "has a record of stances on issues which we will want to explore."

Blumenthal said he also plans to ask Hagel about his views on submarine production and the Joint Strike Fighter Program, two key acquisition programs for the state, and the strategy in Afghanistan.

"Generally I respect the president's right to select cabinet members but I have a responsibility as a member of the Armed Services Committee to ask Sen. Hagel about his views on critical defense and national security policy issues," Blumenthal said.

Senate confirmation of Hagel to succeed outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta would be "historic" Obama said, according to a transcript of his remarks, since he would be the first Vietnam veteran and the first person who served in the enlisted ranks to become secretary. He would also be one of the few secretaries who have been wounded in war.

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, said the nomination of Hagel was a "healthy development as we wind down two of the longest wars in American history, and turn our attention to building a modern, more agile force."

j.mcdermott@theday.com

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