Leahy Backs Hagel and Brennan, But Sanders Withholds Judgment | Off Message

Leahy Backs Hagel and Brennan, But Sanders Withholds Judgment

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President Obama didn't formally announce his controversial pick for defense secretary until 1:20 p.m. Monday, but Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) had long since weighed in. He offered his support for former senator Chuck Hagel (pictured) in a press release issued at 11:07 a.m.

Calling Hagel "a person of great ability and integrity," Leahy said the Nebraska Republican was the right person to lead the Pentagon as Congress pares back its funding.

"He is a combat veteran who still carries shrapnel in his body from his wounds — he will not need on-the-job training," Leahy added in the written statement. "I will support his nomination with enthusiasm, and I have passed that on to the president."

While perhaps unsurprising, Leahy's comments come as several top Senate Republicans — and, privately, even some Democrats — have panned the pick. They take issue with comments Hagel made in the past about Israel, Iran and gays.

Vermont's junior senator, Bernie Sanders — who, like Leahy, will vote on Hagel's nomination if it reaches the Senate floor — did not immediately offer his support.

“Sen. Sanders looks forward to speaking with former Sen. Hagel about the important issues facing the Defense Department and listening to his testimony as part of the Senate confirmation process," Sanders spokesman Michael Briggs said in a written statement. "At this point, it is too early in the process for him to make a decision as to how he will vote.”

Similarly, Sanders withheld judgment Monday on Obama's other national security pick of the day: his nomination of White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan to serve as director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Brennan, too, has drawn early criticism from those who question whether he was involved in the use of "enhanced interrogation" during the Bush administration.

But Leahy says he's ready to back Brennan as well.

"They have had running jokes about being big Irish bald guys," Leahy spokesman David Carle explains.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

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