The administration on Thursday joined allies rallying to support Hagel against an onslaught over his record on Israel and Iran led by some pro-Israel groups and neo-conservatives, but also including some former colleagues on Capitol Hill.
It was the second time since Obama’s re-election last month that the White House has found itself forced to defend a Cabinet candidate who has yet to be nominated for anything, a source of frustration for the president’s advisers
The drumbeat of criticism against Hagel could prompt Obama to reconsider whether it would be worth the likely Senate confirmation battle. But the White House has given no sign of dropping him the president’s short list.
Further complicating decisions on the remaining appointments, Obama’s attention has been dominated in recent by the “fiscal cliff” standoff and the fallout from last week’s deadly shooting rampage at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.
Also in the mix for the Pentagon job are Michele Flournoy, a former undersecretary of defense for policy, and Ashton Carter, the current deputy defense secretary.
The top candidates for CIA director, to replace David Petraeus who stepped down over an extramarital affair, are believed to be Michael Morell, currently acting CIA director, and John Brennan, a top counter-terrorism adviser to Obama and former CIA official.