(WASHINGTON) — President Obama moved to round out his second-term national security team Monday, nominating former Sen. Chuck Hagel to head the Department of Defense and counterterrorism advisor John Brennan to lead the CIA.
Obama launched a vigorous public defense of Hagel, whose anticipated nomination had already stirred opposition on both sides of the aisle. He called the Nebraska Republican the “leader that our troops deserve” and a “patriot,” who served heroically in combat, saving the life of his brother.
“To this day, Chuck bears the scars and the shrapnel from battles he fought in our name,” Obama said.
In Hagel, he added, “our troops see a decorated combat veteran of character and strength. They see one of their own.”
At one point, Obama seemed to give nod to some of Hagel’s more controversial past statements, praising the senator’s “willingness to speak his mind even if it wasn’t popular, even if it defied the conventional wisdom.”
Turning to Brennan, Obama said the 25-year veteran of the CIA was one of the “most skilled and respected” members of his national security team, contributing “strong analytic insights” and “invaluable perspective.”
“People here in the White House work hard, but John is legendary even in the White House for working hard,” Obama said. “He is one of the hardest-working public servants I’ve ever seen. I’m not sure he’s slept in four years.”
The president also obliquely defended Brennan against questions about ties to enhanced interrogation techniques and use of drones: “He has worked to embed our efforts in a strong legal framework,” Obama said.
Looking to the confirmation battle ahead, Obama urged the Senate to act.
“I hope that the Senate will act on these confirmations promptly. And when it comes to national security, we don’t like to leave a lot of gaps between the time that one set of leaders transitions out and another transitions in, so we need to get moving quickly on this,” he said.
Obama spoke from the East Room flanked by Hagel and Brennan and their predecessors, Secretary Leon Panetta and acting CIA director Mike Morell.
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