POLITICS

Marco Rubio: Chuck Hagel Has 'Big, Big Problems,' I Won't Support His Defense Secretary Nomination

01/31/2013 12:34 pm ET | Updated Jan 31, 2013

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) won't vote to confirm former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) as the next secretary of defense, he announced on Thursday.

Speaking on Fox News, Rubio cited disagreements with Hagel on a number of issues.

"I’ve stated long ago that I have been deeply concerned about his previous comments, with regards to sanctions on Iran, with regards to direct negotiations with North Korea, obviously statements he’s made about Israel, and these are not the kinds of statements and kind of positions that I want our secretary of defense to have," Rubio said. "These are big, big problems. And so for those reasons I just don’t believe I will be able to support his nomination."

Earlier this month, Rubio also said that he was skeptical of President Barack Obama's pick to succeed outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta over Hagel's statement that U.S. policy toward Cuba was "outdated, unrealistic, irrelevant."

A number of Senate Republicans have declared their opposition to Hagel's nomination, citing a variety of claims, some of which have been found to be overblown.

Hagel faced tough questioning from the Senate during his confirmation hearing on Thursday, including a particularly contentious exchange with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who pressed his former colleague on his opposition to the 2007 Iraq war surge.

So far, Hagel has the support of only one Senate Republican, Thad Cochran of Mississippi. Assuming all 55 Senate Democrats vote to confirm Hagel, he would need at least five Republican votes to reach the 60-vote threshold necessary to prevent a GOP filibuster.

UPDATE: 1:10 p.m. -- Rubio later released an official statement explaining his opposition:

“After carefully reviewing Senator Hagel’s record on a number of issues, I cannot support his confirmation as our nation’s next Secretary of Defense. I oppose his confirmation because of his views on U.S. policy toward Cuba, his past opposition to tough Iran sanctions, his questionable comments in the past about U.S. support for Israel, his support for direct, bilateral negotiations with North Korea and, most importantly, my belief that he will usher in a new era of austere defense budgets that will severely impede U.S. national security by hampering readiness and radically limiting the global force projection of our military.

“Senator Hagel served his country during the Vietnam War with great distinction and has an admirable record of public service. I also appreciate him taking the time to visit with me this week. Unfortunately, his policy views are too far apart from what I believe to be the way forward for preserving America’s proper role in the world as a force for security and peace. Now more than ever, I firmly believe the U.S. needs a robust military capability that includes a renewed commitment to our shipbuilding program, a reliable nuclear deterrent to defend against rogue nations and a nimble counterterrorism force able to confront the asymmetric warfare of the 21st century.”

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