Nightly News   |  January 06, 2013

Obama reportedly to tap Hagel for defense spot

With the fiscal cliff crisis barely in the rear view mirror, the White House's likely decision to pick former Sen. Chuck Hagel for the defense secretary position is likely to ignite a contentious confirmation battle. NBC’s Peter Alexander reports.

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>>> back from his vacation tonight and fresh off the fiscal showdown, he is already gerding for what's expected to be the next political showdown. tonight, nbc news can confirm he will wade right back into the fray tomorrow by nominating former senator chuck hagel as the next secretary of defense. at face value , the pick of a long-time republican lawmaker for the job could be seen as a rare act of bipartisanship ain a sharply divided town. tonight, opponents on both sides of the aisle are sharpening their claws for what could be a testy confirmation fight. nbc white house correspondent peter alexander joins us from washington now with more. hello, peter.

>> reporter: lester, good evening to you. with the fiscal cliff crisis barely in our rearview mirror earthquake the white house 's decision to pick chuck haig.as secretary of defense is likely to ignite a contentious confirmation battle. congress is out of session this week, but already, talk of the pick is generating stiff opposition. fresh off his hawaiian vacation, president obama is already facing heated debate over the expected pick of former nebraska senator chuck hagel for secretary of defense.

>> a person who has a resume that includes service on the foreign relations committee as well as the intelligence committee . yes,'s se he's a serious kand dad. .

>> reporter: hailing would be the first enlisted soldier, a purple heart decorated vietnam veteran to be secretary of defense. the end pen dent-minded member clashed with his own party, opposing the iraq war . and lately fiercely criticizing president obama 's iraq troop surge . hagel angered pro-israel groups with his opposition to unilateral sanction against iran and comments critical to what he calledout wish lobby p

>> you have somebody very an tag nflic toward the state of israel and the issue wes jointly face u there is no jewish lobby you there is a pro- israel lobby .

>> reporter: on "meet the press," the president weighed in on the choice.

>> my number one criteria is who is going to do the best job in helping secure america.

>> anything disqualify him?

>> not that i see. i have served with chuck hagel . i know him. he is a patriot.

>> reporter: even with the fiscal cliff fight behind him, the president faces another looming showdown over the nation's debt ceiling, its boor rowing limit. today, senate minority leader mitch mcconnell insisted the tax issue is resolved but demanded spending cuts.

>> i wish the president would lead us in this discussion rather than putting himself in a position of having to be dragged kicking and screaming to the table to discuss the single biggest issue confronting our future.

>> reporter: also tonight, the -- an administration official tells us that the president is likely to name his cia director as early as tomorrow to succeed david petraeus . on your screen, you see the two top candidates right now, homeland security and counterterrorism advisory john brennan as well as the man you see on the left there, the acting cia head, mike morell.