WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama announced Monday he will nominate former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel as his next defense secretary, calling him "the leader our troops deserve." He also said he had chosen White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan to lead the Central Intelligence Agency.
Controversy surrounds both choices, but the president called on the Senate to quickly confirm both.
"The work of protecting our nation is never done. We've got much to do," Obama said at the East Room announcement. "My most solemn obligation is the security of our people."
Obama announced his choice of Hagel, a political moderate who represented Nebraska in the Senate, even as critics questioned the pick over issues including Hagel's views on Israel and Iran.
Facing a potential fight to get Hagel confirmed by the Senate, Obama praised his independence and bipartisan approach, and said that Hagel, a Vietnam veteran, understands war is not an abstraction.
He also praised Hagel, 66, as one who could make "tough fiscal choices" in a time of increasing austerity.
Brennan, 57, a 25-year CIA veteran, is a close Obama adviser who has served in his present post for four years.
The president praised him as one of the nation's most skilled and respected intelligence professionals. Obama said Brennan and Hagel understand that "the work of protecting our nation is never done."
Brennan withdrew from consideration for the spy agency's top job in 2008 amid questions about his connection to harsh interrogation techniques used during the George W. Bush administration.
Hagel, in brief remarks, thanked Obama "for this opportunity to serve this country again, especially its men and women in uniform. ... These are people who give so much to this nation every day."
Hagel voted for U.S. military involvement in the Iraq war at first but later opposed it. He broke ranks with other Republicans to support Obama for president in 2008.
If confirmed, he would replace Leon Panetta as defense secretary.
Obama said Panetta, standing with the others alongside the president, had "earned the right to return to civilian life."
Panetta was CIA director before Obama tapped him to be defense chief.
Along with secretary of state nominee Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., Hagel and Brennan would play key roles implementing and shaping Obama's national security priorities in a second term. All three men must be confirmed by the Senate.
In nominating Hagel, Obama signaled he is willing to take on a tough confirmation fight. Once Hagel emerged as Obama's likely nominee, GOP lawmakers began sharply questioning his commitment to Israel and his willingness to take a hard line with Iran over its disputed nuclear program.