Defense Secretary Nominee Chuck Hagel's Stance on Key Issues

PHOTO: In this Feb. 21, 2007, file photo, then-Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., speaks during an appearance at Bellevue University, in Bellevue, Neb. President Barack Obama nominated Hagel as his next defense secretary on Monday, Jan. 7, 2013.

President Barack Obama nominated former senator Chuck Hagel to be the next secretary of defense on Monday afternoon.

Hagel would replace current Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who has served in the position since July 2011 and repeatedly declared his intentions to leave early this year. Panetta previously led the Central Intelligence Agency.

"Chuck Hagel is the leader that our troops deserve. He is an American patriot," Obama said from the White House on Monday, adding that "Chuck knows that war is not an abstraction."

While last month's nomination of Democratic Sen. John Kerry to serve as secretary of state garnered relatively bipartisan support, Hagel's confirmation is likely to be more contentious, with his past comments on Israel and gay rights likely to come under the microscope.

But as head of the Defense Department, Hagel will have to immediately deal with the debate over defense spending cuts if he is confirmed. Hagel would also be tasked with managing the withdrawal of combat troops from Afghanistan, after more than a decade in the country.

As the war winds down, public concern has shifted toward the economy at home and domestic spending on healthcare and programs such as Social Security. Hagel is well aware of that, and has indicated that he's not opposed to defense cuts as the nation shifts some of its focus to domestic issues.

Hagel has even called the defense budget "bloated," which makes many Republicans nervous.

So who is Chuck Hagel, exactly?

1. He's Always had an Independent Streak

The former Nebraska Republican senator and current Georgetown University professor has done anything but toe the party line. Though he voted for the Iraq War, he became one of its most vocal Republican critics. He declined to endorse GOP nominees in 2008 and 2012, and he's been generally supportive of Obama since his first campaign, though he declined to officially endorse him.

He campaigned for Nebraska Democratic Senate candidate Bob Kerrey during the last election season.

Powerful members of his own party, such as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), have been openly critical of Hagel, as have many Democrats. But he also has the support of some high level Democrats, including Sen. Carl Levin (D-Michigan), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

He's made controversial comments about Israel and Iran. Some, including Graham, have questioned whether Hagel is a true Israel supporter. In 2006, Hagel referred to pro-Israel groups as the "Jewish lobby," a term many Israel supporters found offensive. And some are wary of his criticism of the idea of a military strike of Iran by either the United States or Israel.

Even as a young person, Hagel ruffled some feathers. He was named deputy administrator of the Veterans Administration, but resigned in the early 1980s over a dispute about cutting funding for programs benefiting veterans. Hagel was against the cuts.

He's also seen by some as reluctant to go to war. While Obama has said repeatedly that he will not accept a nuclear-armed Iran, conservatives have worried that Hagel will be too soft on the issue. But according to Slate, "For the past year, he has been co-chairman of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, where he has won plaudits from several veteran intelligence officials for his probity and objectivity."

2. His Military Experience Has Influenced His Views

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