WASHINGTON – Arkansas Sens. John Boozman and Mark Pryor withheld judgment Monday on the nomination of Chuck Hagel to head the Department of Defense.
In separate statements, the two lawmakers provided no immediate opinion about President Obama’s choice of the former Republican senator from Nebraska to replace Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
"I am looking forward to a fair confirmation process and learning more about Sen. 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 Sen. 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, opposed Hagel in a column published 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’s "This Week" with George Stephanopoulos.
Cotton is urging the Senate to reject Hagel’s nomination 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 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," he said.
In nominating Hagel, Obama said Monday 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.