WASHINGTON (AP) — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is stepping down under pressure from President Barack Obama’s Cabinet, senior administration officials said Monday, following a tenure in which he has struggled to break through the White House’s insular foreign policy team.
Hagel is the first senior Obama adviser to leave the administration following the sweeping losses for Obama’s party in the midterm elections. It also comes as the president’s national security team has been battered by multiple foreign policy crises, include the rise of the Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.
A senior defense official said that Hagel submitted his resignation letter to Obama on Monday morning and the president accepted it. Hagel, 68, agreed to remain in office until his successor is confirmed by the Senate, the official said.
The official said both Hagel and Obama “determined that it was time for new leadership in the Pentagon,” adding that they had been discussing the matter over a period of several weeks.
Obama was to announce Hagel’s resignation Monday. The president is not expected to nominate a new Pentagon chief Monday, according to a second official.
The officials insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter by name ahead of Obama’s official announcement.
Hagel is a Republican who served as senator from Nebraska and became a critic of U.S. involvement in Iraq. After Obama nominated him to succeed Leon Panetta as Defense Secretary in his second term, Hagel struggled through a disastrous confirmation hearing that raised early concerns about him within the White House.
While Obama has sought to consolidate foreign policy decision-making within the White House, advisers have privately criticized Hagel for not being more proactive and engaged. In recent weeks, Hagel did weigh in with concerns about the administration’s policy on the Islamic State, writing in a letter to national security adviser Susan Rice that Obama needed to articulate a clearer view on the administration’s approach to dealing with Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Recent questions about Hagel’s future at the Pentagon were prompted in part by his decision to postpone a long-planned trip this month to Vietnam. At the time, officials said he needed to remain in Washington for congressional consultations, but that did not stop speculation that the White House might be looking for a replacement for the final two years of Obama’s term.
Just last week Hagel was asked about the speculation during an interview on the Charlie Rose show. He was asked whether he’s concerned by the speculation.
“No. First of all, I serve at the pleasure of the president,” Hagel said. “I`m immensely grateful for the opportunity I`ve had the last two years to work every day for the country and for the men and women who serve this country. I don`t get up in the morning and worry about my job. It`s not unusual by the way, to change teams at different times.”
Hagel served in the Vietnam War and received two Purple Hearts.
Statement released by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel:
To the men and women of the Department of Defense:
I wanted to take this opportunity to let you know that this morning, President Obama accepted my letter of resignation. I have agreed to continue to serve as Secretary of Defense until my successor is confirmed by the United States Senate. You should know I did not make this decision lightly. But after much discussion, the President and I agreed that now was the right time for new leadership here at the Pentagon. I want you to know that I am immensely proud of what we have accomplished together. We have prepared ourselves, our Allies and the Afghan National Security Forces for a successful transition in Afghanistan. We have taken the fight to ISIL and, with our Iraqi and coalition partners, have blunted the momentum of this barbaric enemy. We have come to the aid of millions of people around the world who have suffered the ravages of natural disaster and of disease. We have worked tirelessly to sustain our all-volunteer force that has given so much during 13 years of war. And we have bolstered enduring alliances and strengthened emerging partnerships, all the while setting in motion important reforms that will prepare this institution for the challenges facing us in the decades to come. Most importantly, we have helped keep this country and our fellow citizens safe. We have sustained the blessings of liberty our ancestors secured and upheld the oath we took. That work will continue. It must continue. The world is still too dangerous, the threats too numerous, for us to lose focus. And even as I promised the President my full support going forward, so, too, do I promise that I will work hard to support you right up until my last day in office. I owe you that. There will be time later to say farewell. For now, please know how much I respect and admire your service and that of your families. As I gather with my own family this Thanksgiving holiday — a luxury I realize not all of you will enjoy — it will be the privilege of having worked with you these last two years for which I will be most grateful.
Thank you for all you do for this country. God bless you. Happy Thanksgiving.
Associated Press writer Nedra Pickler contributed to this story.
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