Former Secretary of State Colin Powell voiced strong support Sunday for former Sen. Chuck Hagel as the country’s next defense secretary by saying he is “superbly qualified” but criticized his Republican Party, which has largely being critical of Hagel.
“Most of the national security community that I know -- many secretaries of defense, ambassadors -- think Hagel is a solid guy,” Powell said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “He speaks his mind, is a good supporter of Israel, but he's not reluctant to disagree when appropriate … He’ll do a great job.”
Hagel was under fire on several fronts even before he was officially nominated Monday by President Obama, in part for once saying “the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people” on Capitol Hill.
Powell, a four-star general who served in the George W. Bush administration, said the former Nebraska senator should instead have said the “Israeli lobby.”
He called Hagel “a very, very strong supporter of the state of Israel,” but said that doesn’t mean one must agree with “every single position that the Israeli government takes.”
Still, Republicans continued Sunday to express concern about Hagel, who must face Senate hearings and confirmation to get the Cabinet post.
New Hampshire Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte told “Fox News Sunday” that she is “very troubled” about Hagel’s foreign policy views but remains undecided.
Other concerns about Hagel include whether he would support a military strike against Iran if the country continues to pursue making a nuclear weapon, and his views on gays, following a comment he made in the 1990s for which he has apologized.
In addition, South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham told Fox's "Weekend Live ANHQ" on Sunday that Hagel was "the most antagonistic senator" of his time.
And Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker said he thinks the bigger issue of Hagel's "overall temperament" will come up during the confirmation hearings.
The Republican senator told ABC's "This Week" the real issue is whether Hagel is "suited" to run a big government department such as the Pentagon. He also said he thinks there are a "number of staffers who are coming forth now just talking about the way (Hagel) has dealt with them."
Powell, who voted twice for Obama, said he is still a Republican, but said the party “has an identity crisis” and some factions have a “dark vein of intolerance.”
“They still look down on minorities,” he said.
Powell also said the party’s more recent shift to the right has resulted in “losing campaigns” and “will be in trouble” if it doesn’t change along with the country’s shifting demographics to appeal more to minorities and immigrants.
“You can’t keep saying no immigration policy … it makes it hard for minorities to vote,” he said.