Saying he was “lucky” to have Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in his administration, President Obama said it’s now the “appropriate time for him to complete his service.”
Obama was flanked by Hagel and Vice President Joe Biden during the Monday morning announcement in the State Dining Room.
He credited Hagel with helping build a coalition to fight ISIS and combat Ebola in West Africa, and said the troops see themselves in the Vietnam veteran.
Obama said Hagel came on board when the Pentagon was “entering a significant period of transition” including the drawdown in Afghanistan and budgetary constraints.
The president called Hagel “an exemplary Defense secretary” and added he’s admired him since he was a “green-behind-the-ears freshman senator.”
“If there’s one thing I know about Chuck, he does not take this or any decision lightly,” Obama said.
Hagel will stay on until a successor is confirmed.
“You’ve always given it to me straight and for that I’ll always be grateful,” said Obama.
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) noted to CNN that he saw growing policy rifts between Hagel and Obama, including over boots on the ground to battle ISIS.
“Secretary Hagel did not believe that the foreign policy is working or is going to work,” King said.
Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, told Fox that Hagel’s firing “makes very clear that this administration continues to be far more concerned about controlling the message than they are about controlling the threat that the United States faces.”
“What we understand that the real catalyst for this move was not so much what the secretary’s done or not but really that he’s given the White House advice that they don’t want to hear, and that’s what concerns me,” Forbes said.
“Because whether I agree with the secretary of Defense or not, we want him to be able to give his honest advice to the president of the United States. And we’ve had testimony where our leaders have been saying this president’s White House has been ignoring the military advice and advice coming out of the Department of Defense. That concerns us a great deal.”
Obama added that today the U.S. can “claim the strongest military the world has ever known.”
In his remarks, Hagel thanked the troops and lawmakers, and promised to work hard until his successor is confirmed. He called building a team effort “part of the fun of it.”
“It’s been the greatest privilege of my life,” he said.