WASHINGTON -- GOP senators are now vowing a tough fight against Secretary of Defense nominee Chuck Hagel, but in 2008 several top Republicans offered strong praise of their Senate colleague after the Nebraska Republican decided not to run for a third term.

In a series of tributes published by the Government Printing Office, Republicans lionized their departing colleague.

"In two terms in the Senate, Chuck has earned the respect of his colleagues and risen to national prominence as a clear voice on foreign policy and national security," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Oct. 2, 2008.

This past Sunday, McConnell described Hagel more ambiguously as "outspoken" on national security issues and equivocated about his nomination. "I'm going to take a look at all the things that Chuck has said over the years and review that and in terms of his qualifications to lead our nation's military," McConnell said on ABC's "This Week."

While kind parting words are often expected when senators leave the chamber, in the four years since Republicans have apparently come to a completely different evaluation of Hagel. He was uniformly praised in 2008, while as an Obama nominee he has been met by Republicans with skepticism and, in some cases, outright opposition.

"This is an in-your-face nomination by the president to all of us who are supportive of Israel," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) Sunday on CNN, while declining to say whether he would filibuster the nomination or whether he thought he had the votes to block Hagel. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) has announced his opposition to Hagel, while Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has said that he very likely will not be supporting the nominee.

The opposition is unusual for a defense secretary nominee. Among the last three secretaries, two -- Leon Panetta and Donald Rumsfeld -- received no votes in opposition, while Robert Gates sailed through in a 95-2 vote.

In 2008, then-Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) was fulsome in his praise of Hagel. "He made a tremendous contribution to the world of the Senate because he had first-hand knowledge of the dynamism and transformational nature of the global economy all around us," Coleman said.

"Chuck Hagel's whole life expresses his conviction that the world can and should be a better place, and it will not get that way by itself. He is fully engaged in a lifelong effort to make the world a better place, and he applies every waking hour to the quest," said Coleman.

"When you look at the list of organizations he supports with this ideas and his leadership, it looks like the combined resume of five people. He works with veterans organizations, antipoverty organizations, international cooperation organizations, and the list goes on and on. He has been honored by dozens of organizations for excellence in public service," Coleman said four years ago.

But Coleman narrowly lost his own seat to Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) in 2008. Today he is a board member for the Republican Jewish Coalition, which strongly opposes Hagel's nomination. The group bills itself as the "first major Jewish organization" to go on the record against Hagel.

Though Coleman will not have a chance to vote on his former colleague's nomination, other current senators are on the record praising Hagel. "He made a point of visiting other countries and meeting with foreign leaders to increase his expertise on foreign policy. Working closely with Senator [Dick] Lugar and Senator [Joe] Biden, he has been a voice on the committee that is sought after for his perspective," said Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) on Nov. 20, 2008.

"Chuck Hagel, who exercises this tremendous independence, somebody with whom I have really enjoyed serving on [the] Foreign Relations [Committee]," said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) on Oct. 1, 2008.

"Along with Senator Lugar on this side of the aisle, he understands the world better than almost anyone, and he works hard at it. He has been independent in his views, willing to criticize those he thought were wrong, including those in his own party. He has recently written an excellent book about the future of our party," said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) on Sept. 24, 2008.

"We will miss Senator Hagel," Alexander continued.

Now Republicans have the chance to bring him back.

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  • Chuck Hagel (February 2013 - Present)

    New Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is greeted as he arrives for his first day at the Department of Defense, on February 27, 2013 in Arlington, Va. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

  • Leon Panetta (July 2011 - February 2013)

    Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta pauses while speaking during a ceremonial swearing-in at the Department of Defense July 22, 2011 in Washington. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • Robert Gates (Dec. 2006 - July 2011)

    Robert Gates speaks during his ceremonial swearing in as the 22nd defense secretary on Dec. 18, 2006 at the Pentagon. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • Donald Rumsfeld (Jan. 2001 - Dec. 2006)

    U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld holds his press conference at the Pentagon briefing room on Jan. 26, 2001 in Arlington, Va. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • William Cohen (Jan. 1997 - Jan. 2001)

    Secretary of Defense designate William Cohen testifies during confirmation hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Jan. 22, 1997 in Washington. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • William Perry (Feb. 1994 - Jan. 1997)

    U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry points to a reporter during a press conference on April 21, 1994 in Seoul, Korea. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • Les Aspin (Jan. 1993 - Feb. 1994)

    U.S. Secretary of Defense Les Aspin released new regulations governing gays in the military during a press on Dec. 22, 1993 at the Pentagon. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • Dick Cheney (March 1989 - Jan. 1993)

    U.S. Defense Secretary Dick Cheney (L) meets Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak, on April 3, 1989, at Washington. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • Frank Carlucci (Nov. 1987 - Jan. 1989)

    U.S. Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee on July 13, 1988 in Washington. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • Caspar Weinberger (Jan. 1981 - Nov. 1987)

    Caspar Weinberger, Secretary of Defense on Feb. 9, 1981. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • Harold Brown (Jan. 1977 - Jan. 1981)

    General Alexander M. Haig, right, retired as NATO commander, walks with Defense Secretary Harold Brown during an awards ceremony on July 3, 1979 at Fort Myer, Va. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • Donald Rumsfeld (Nov. 1975 - Jan. 1977)

    A 1976 photo of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • James Schlesinger (July 1973 - Nov. 1975)

    Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, left, with Secretary of Defense James R. Schlesinger, chats on Friday, Jan. 5, 1974 at the Pentagon. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • Elliot Richardson (Jan. 1973 - May 1973)

    Elliot L. Richardson speaks to newsmen Oct. 23, 1973 at a press conference held at the Department of Justice. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • Melvin Laird (Jan. 1969 - Jan. 1973)

    Secretary of Defense Melvin R. Laird as he departed from Andrews Air Force Base Md., for Paris on Jan. 5, 1971 in Washington. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • Clark Clifford (March 1968 - Jan. 1969)

    This is an Oct. 1968 photo of Secretary of Defense Clark Clifford as he announces his support for President Johnson's decision to halt the bombing of North Vietnam. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • Robert McNamara (Jan. 1961 - Feb. 1968)

    PARIS, FRANCE: US Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara smiles as he arrives 27 November 1965 at Paris' NATO headquarters. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • Thomas Gates (Dec. 1959 - Jan. 1961)

    Secretary of Defense Thomas S. Gates Jr., center, poses with Benjamin M. McKelway, left, editor of the Washington Evening Star and President of the AP, and AP General Manager Frank J. Starzel at the April 25, 1960 meeting of the Associated Press in New York. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • Neil McElroy (Oct. 1957 - Dec. 1959)

    Defense Secretary Neil McElroy said he has "fullest confidence that the United States is ahead of the Soviets..." prior to the announcement of the Soviet's achievement in launching the first earth satellite, Oct. 4, 1958. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • Charles Wilson (Jan. 1953 - Oct. 1957)

    Charles E. Wilson, left, takes the oath of office from Chief Justice Fred Vinson at the White House in Washington on Dec. 21, 1950 as head of the office of Defense Mobilization. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • Robert Lovett (Sept. 1951 - Jan. 1953)

    Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower (right) watches President Harry S. Truman and Gen. Omar Bradley help Defense Secretary Robert Lovett (left) get in place as the men posed on the south lawn of the White House on June 1, 1952 in Washington. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • George Marshall (Sept. 1950 - Sept. 1951)

    Anna M. Rosenberg, New York Labor and Public Relations consultant, who is named assistant secretary of defense, chats with Secretary of Defense George Marshall in a conference at the Pentagon on Nov. 9, 1950 in Arlington, Va. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • Louis Johnson (March 1949 - Sept. 1950)

    Defense Secretary Louis Johnson (right) gives new identification card to President Harry Truman at the White House on Nov. 9, 1949 in Washington, listing him as commander in chief for an "indefinite" term. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • James Forrestal (Sept. 1947 - March 1949)

    James V. Forrestal, Secretary of Defense under President Harry Truman, is shown on July 26, 1947. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)