President Barack Obama’s nominee for secretary of defense, Chuck Hagel, received a resounding vote of support on Sunday from a fellow Republican moderate, Colin L. Powell, who said Hagel, a former senator from Nebraska, was ‘‘superbly qualified’’ to lead the Pentagon.
''I think he will make a very, very spirited defense of his position — and I think he'll be confirmed,’’ Powell, a former secretary of state and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on the NBC News program ‘‘Meet the Press.’’
Republicans have been criticizing Hagel since his name began circulating as the possible nominee, and the criticism continued on the Sunday morning political talk shows.
Sen. John McCain of Arizona, on the CBS News program ‘‘Face the Nation,’’ said Hagel’s early opposition to the troop surge in Iraq was ‘‘bizarre.’’ He said he would have many questions for Hagel when he appears before the Armed Services Committee for confirmation hearings. McCain is the committee’s ranking Republican.
Another Republican, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, appeared to open a new front on Sunday against Hagel, saying that he had questions about his ‘‘overall temperament.’’
Corker, who is not on the Armed Services Committee and said that he did not know Hagel well, offered little elaboration. But he said that there were ‘‘numbers of staffers who are coming forth now just talking about the way he has dealt with them.’’
Corker’s comments on the ABC News program ‘‘This Week’’ seemed to suggest that he considered Hagel — who has a reputation for speaking his mind — overbearing or erratic.
Until now, Hagel has been criticized mainly for what some lawmakers and interest groups consider his overly cautious attitude toward Iran and his tough approach on Israel. But Powell said that Hagel had shown that it was possible to be ‘‘a good supporter of Israel’’ while still criticizing it.
Being pro-Israel, Powell said, ‘‘doesn’t mean you have to agree with every single position that the Israeli government takes.’’
Hagel’s past reference to ‘‘the Jewish lobby’’ has been widely criticized, and he has apologized for it. His position on Israel, including an openness to negotiations with Hamas, the Palestinian militant group, has drawn pointed criticism from some pro-Israeli groups and from neoconservatives like Bill Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, and Elliott Abrams, a national security adviser to Bush during the Iraq war.
Last week, Abrams, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, suggested that Hagel had ‘‘some kind of problem with Jews.’’ But the council has distanced itself from Abrams’ remarks. Its president, Richard N. Haass, said on ‘‘This Week’’ that he had known Hagel for years and that any accusations of anti-Semitism were ‘‘preposterous.’’
Powell’s praise for Hagel may come as a mixed blessing, at least in some circles. Both men have repeatedly taken issue with Republicans on the far right, and Powell offered a withering assessment of the problems facing the party when he was asked whether he had moved so far to the left — he voted twice for Obama — as to lose his claim to be a Republican.
He said the party had undergone a ‘‘significant shift to the right’’ and as a result lost two presidential elections in a row. He suggested that the party’s immigration policy was badly out of touch with a country where blacks, Asians and Hispanics would soon collectively outnumber the white population.
Powell, who is black, said it was incredulous that Republican leaders would brook the extremists who question Obama’s place of birth, and he said some prominent Republicans had made remarks that he considered to be borderline racist.
He said there was a ‘‘dark vein of intolerance in some parts of the party’’ that must be addressed.
''You've got to think first about what’s the party actually going to represent,’’ Powell said. ‘‘If it’s just going to represent the far right wing of the political spectrum, I think the party is in difficulty.’’