Obama to Nominate Hagel as Pentagon Chief

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WASHINGTON - - President Barack Obama will nominate Republican Chuck Hagel as his next defense secretary. That's according to a senior administration official. By choosing a former Senate colleague and a decorated Vietnam veteran to replace retiring Leon Panetta, Obama is signaling he's ready for a contentious confirmation fight likely dominated by questions about Hagel's stands on Israel and Iran.

Obama, who avoided a Capitol Hill battle by deciding not to nominate U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice as his first choice for secretary of state, went ahead with the 66-year-old Hagel, even as leading Republicans announced their opposition - though they stopped short of saying they might try to block the former Nebraska senator.

Obama is expected to nominate Hagel on Monday. Congress is on break this coming week.

Hagel built a strong relationship with Obama during their travel as senators. But the former Nebraska lawmaker has faced withering criticism from Congress since emerging as the front-runner for the Pentagon post.