President Obama urged a divided Senate Monday to quickly confirm two new members of his national security team, though Republicans might not cooperate when it comes to Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel.
"Chuck Hagel is the leader our troops deserve," Obama said in an East Room ceremony, praising him for his service in Vietnam, his business career, and his two terms as senator -- a Republican senator -- from Nebraska.
Current Senate Republicans, however, have questioned their former colleague's commitment to Israel's security and his attitude towards Iran and its nuclear program.
Obama also announced the nomination of White House counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan to be the new director of the CIA.
Noting that "the work of protecting our nation is never done," Obama said his second term security team faces challenges that range from wrapping up the war in Afghanistan to cyber security.
In pointedly urging the Senate for quick confirmations, Obama said: "When it comes to national security, we don't like to leave a lot of gaps."
Hagel is slated replace retiring Pentagon chief Leon Panetta, who also led the CIA earlier in Obama's term. Brennan, meanwhile, would replace David Petraeus, who resigned from the CIA in November after admitting an extramarital affair.
Hagel did not address the Republican criticism during brief remarks at the White House, telling Obama he would always provide "honest and informed" counsel as defense secretary.
Some Senate Republicans said that, during his political career, Hagel has been too critical of Israel and too soft on Iran and its nuclear ambitions. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tex., said, "the worst possible message we could send to our friend Israel and the rest of our allies in the Middle East is Chuck Hagel."
Obama and other Democrats praised Hagel's record, including two Purple Hearts for service in Vietnam and a successful business career before his 1996 Senate election.
"Chuck Hagel's candor, judgment, and expertise will serve him well as our next secretary of defense," said Sen. Jack Reed, D-Ill., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee that will hold confirmation hearings.
As for Brennan, Obama praised his adviser's "keen understanding of a dynamic world," and noted that he created the National Counter-terrorism Center. He also praised Brennan's work ethic, saying "I'm not sure he's slept in four years."
Obama considered him for the CIA after the 2008 election. Brennan withdrew after critics noted that he worked for the CIA at a time that it used enhanced interrogation techniques against terrorist suspects; Brennan said he opposed those techniques, including water boarding.
As a top adviser to Obama, Brennan has also been involved in the administration's increased used of unmanned drones for surveillance and for attacks on suspected terrorists.
Thanking Obama for his nomination, Brennan said he would push to get the CIA "the tools it needs to keep our nation safe." He also pledged to be bipartisan, saying he was neither a Republican nor a Democrat.
Brennan's CIA nomination is not without its critics.
Laura W. Murphy, director of the Washington Legislative Office for the American Civil Liberties Union, said: "The Senate should not move forward with his nomination until all senators can assess the role of the CIA -- and any role by Brennan himself -- in torture, abuse, secret prisons, and extraordinary rendition during his past tenure at the CIA."
The Hagel and Brennan nominations are Obama'a latest moves as he re-tools his administration ahead of a second term that starts Jan. 20.
Late last month, Obama nominated Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., to be Secretary of State.
The president is also looking to replace Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Environmental Protection Agency administration Lisa Jackson, both of whom are planning to leave this month.
The Hagel nomination, for now at least, is drawing more attention, particularly from supporters of Israel.
Abraham H. Foxman, national director the Anti-Defamation League, said he respects "the president's prerogative" to nominate who he wants, but he hopes the confirmation hearings will give Hagel a chance to "address concerns about his positions."
Said Foxman: "I particularly hope Senator Hagel will clarify and explain his comments about the "Jewish Lobby" that were hurtful to many in the Jewish Community."
Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of an organization called J Street, said Hagel understands "the appropriate uses and limitations" of U.S. power, and been a staunch supporter of Israel's security.
Praising Obama for following through on the nomination in face of Republican criticism, Ben-Ami said "this sets an important precedent. Hopefully, qualified candidates will no longer be prevented from serving the nation by 'Swift Boat'-style attacks that distort their records and caricature their beliefs."