Pentagon readies Hagel for confirmation fight

Posted at 8:49 AM, Jan 09, 2013
and last updated 2013-01-09 08:49:29-05

Chuck Hagel speaks at National POW/MIA Recognition Day

WASHINGTON (CNN) — Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel wasted no time in starting formal preparations for what is expected to be a bruising Senate confirmation fight.

One day after his nomination by President Barack Obama, the former Nebraska senator spent Tuesday at the Pentagon meeting key officials and settling in. There were no official briefings, officials said.

Hagel had dinner with outgoing secretary Leon Panetta on Monday night. Officials would not discuss what they talked about, only saying that they were served a Midwestern menu of steak and corn chowder — a nod to Hagel’s Nebraska roots.

Over the next few weeks, Hagel and the team assigned to prep him for the Armed Services Committee hearing will spend much of their time in an area resembling a generic cubical farm. Hagel gets his own office.

A decorated Vietnam veteran, Hagel enlisted in the Army so there is some familiarity with military training. But readying for what is expected to be a tough political battle for confirmation requires a different basic training.

Pentagon spokesman George Little said Hagel will receive briefings on military and administration policies, including the military budget and current operations and capabilities. Defense officials said he would also be briefed on personnel and military readiness issues.

A joint military and civilian transition team from various offices will provide key information and talking points.

Jeremy Bash, Panetta’s chief of staff, is Hagel’s point man.

Hagel, if confirmed, will take over a Pentagon operation very different from that run by his predecessors since the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.

The next defense secretary will oversee the winding down the war in Afghanistan as well as a smaller troop presence there once the bulk of U.S. forces head home in 2014.

He will face large scale budget cuts imposed by the Obama administration and the possibility of bigger spending reductions, if proposed deficit reduction measures take hold in Congress.

Hagel will also face Iran and questions about its nuclear program as well the Syrian civil war and the presence of chemical stockpiles there.

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