Successor in limbo, defense chief pines for Pentagon exit

WASHINGTON Thu Feb 14, 2013 2:09pm EST

Retiring Defense Secretary Leon Panetta arrives to attend a ceremony where U.S. President Barack Obama presents the Medal of Honor to former active duty Army Staff Sergeant Clinton Romesha in the East Room of the White House in Washington February 11, 2013. REUTERS/Jason Reed

Retiring Defense Secretary Leon Panetta arrives to attend a ceremony where U.S. President Barack Obama presents the Medal of Honor to former active duty Army Staff Sergeant Clinton Romesha in the East Room of the White House in Washington February 11, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Jason Reed

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - With his successor's fate unclear, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta publicly pined for retirement on Thursday, saying he was packed up and ready to take his wife, Sylvia, home for Valentine's Day and "get the hell out of here."

But the man nominated to replace the 74-year-old Panetta, former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, faces stiff opposition from Senate Republicans who are threatening to hold up his confirmation vote - potentially delaying Panetta's retirement plans.

Panetta, longing to return to his California walnut farm after four years as Pentagon chief and CIA director, has repeatedly said goodbye to Pentagon and Washington officials in recent days, something he hoped he was doing once and for all at a ceremony on Thursday.

Still, he couldn't be sure.

"I feel like it's 'Groundhog Day' around here," Panetta joked at a Pentagon ceremony honoring former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In the movie "Groundhog Day" the main character lives the same day over and over.

"My office is packed up. Sylvia is packing at home. I'm ready to go. It's like, 'All right.'"

Panetta joked that Clinton's presence at the Pentagon was a great Valentine's Day gift to Defense Department employees.

"The second best Valentine's present would be to allow Sylvia and I to get the hell out of town at the end of the day," he quipped.

Aides say Panetta is likely to leave the Pentagon for California, regardless of what happens in the Senate on Thursday. But he will stay in office until Hagel's confirmation battle is resolved, potentially returning next week, they say.

Hagel, 66, broke from his party while in the Senate by opposing former President George W. Bush's handling of the Iraq War, angering many of his Republican colleagues. Some members of his party have also raised questions about whether Hagel is sufficiently supportive of Israel, tough enough on Iran or capable of leading the Pentagon.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Jackie Frank)

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Comments (3)
speaker12 wrote:
Perhaps if Obama stopped acting like a petulent child and worked with the Repubs he would get more done. Yes he won the election but truly, there wasn’t much to choose from.

Feb 14, 2013 2:29pm EST  --  Report as abuse
nocroman wrote:
If anyone has a valid reason why the president choice should not be approved let him/her speak up or forever hold their peace.

Valid Reason: Physically or mentaly unable to do the job they were chosen to do.

Invalid Reason: You don’t like them or don’t like the party they belong to, or are mad at them, or any other petty kindergarten playground reason that has been used in congress and the senate to stop presidential choices for positions in the past.

Feb 14, 2013 3:35pm EST  --  Report as abuse
victor672 wrote:
This is the man who implemented the forcing of open homosexuality on our military. We’ve already had homosexual faux-weddings in the West Point chapel. Let that be his shameful legacy. That, and allowing Americans to be murdered in Benghazi. Like one of Hitler’s henchmen, “I was just following orders”.

Feb 14, 2013 9:33pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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