'Tis the season for cabinet speculation. Bloomberg offered its take this afternoon on who is the favorite to replace Defense Secretary Leon Panetta as head of the Pentagon:
Chuck Hagel has emerged as the leading candidate to become Obama’s next Secretary of Defense and may be nominated as soon as this month, according to two people familiar with the matter.
Hagel, who served as an enlisted Army infantryman in Vietnam, has passed the vetting process at the White House Counsel’s office, said one of the people. The former Nebraska senator has told associates that he is awaiting final word from the president, said the other person. Both requested anonymity to discuss personnel matters.
Hagel's name has previously been floated for the DOD job, so the report isn't exactly a surprise. Still, it does provide the best signal yet that the former GOP senator is the clear front-runner for the post. The White House, for its part, isn't confirming or denying anything, saying only that it doesn't expect any official nominations this week.
Hagel is known for having quite the independent streak, something that would clearly be a prerequisite for crossing the aisle to join a Democratic administration. Still, he'd nonetheless add a second shot of GOP to the president's team. Currently, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is the only card-carrying Republican member of Obama's cabinet.
That big R that accompanied Hagel's name during his time in Congress, however, wouldn't assure him smooth sailing during his confirmation hearings, as the Hill pointed out over the weekend, thanks to his rather vocal criticism of George W. Bush while serving in the Senate. For those of you who need a quick refresher on Hagel, the AtlanticWire has what you're looking for, and Weigel has a little more on the issues that Hagel actually comes down to the left of Panetta on.
If Hagel does get the job, that would mean that it would either be State Department or bust for Sen. John Kerry, who has been rumored to be up for both cabinet positions.
The post, originally published at 2:46 p.m., was last updated at 3:05 p.m. with more details, including the White House response, additional analysis, and a link to Weigel.