President Barack Obama said Monday that it was Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's idea to resign, despite numerous press reports saying that Obama forced Hagel out in response to ongoing critiques about his administration's foreign policy and use of the military.
"Last month, Chuck came to me to discuss the final quarter of my presidency, and determined that having guided the department through this transition, it was an appropriate time for him to complete his service," Obama said in a White House press conference to discuss Hagel's departure.
"If there's one thing I know about Chuck, it's that he does not make this or any decision lightly," Obama added. "This decision does not come easily to him, but I consider myself extraordinarily lucky to have had him by my side for two years, and I am grateful that Chuck has agreed to stay on until I nominate his successor, and that successor is confirmed by the Senate."
Obama had nothing but kind words to say about Hagel, and called him a friend who was brave enough to visit the Middle East with Obama when Obama was a presidential candidate. He also said Hagel was the first enlisted combat veteran to lead the Defense Department, and said that has given him a special touch with U.S. troops.
"He understands our men and women like few others, because he's stood where they stood," Obama said. "He's been in the dirt and he's been in the mud, and that's established a special bond."
Obama made no mention of various reports that said Obama's White House felt under siege from criticism about its failure to see the rise of the Islamic State, which quickly became an imminent threat to U.S. national security. The group quickly gained notoriety with the public execution of three U.S. citizens, which prompted many Americans to call for tougher action.
The perception that the administration failed to handle that threat appears to have played into the Republicans' midterm election victory — more than 70 percent of voters said they were worried about a terrorist attack on U.S. soil.
Hagel may have also gotten in trouble for ignore Obama's prior comment that the Islamic State was a "JV team," and instead saying over the summer that the terrorist group was a major threat to U.S. national security.
The New York Times, which first reported Hagel's resignation, said Hagel was pushed out after it was recognized that "different skills" will be needed to fight the Islamic State.
But many Republicans say Obama's strategy to fight the group is being hindered by a condition Obama himself has set — that no U.S. ground troops will be used.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) got close to this point on Monday, by saying Hagel had a tough job given the "intrusive White House micromanagement" that he faced. McKeon added that Obama has now been through three defense secretaries, and suggested that the problem is Obama himself, not his nominees.
"The Obama administration is now in the market for their fourth secretary of Defense," he said. "When the president goes through three secretaries, he should ask 'is it them, or is it me?' "
At the White House, Hagel acknowledged he submitted a resignation letter today, but said little else other than thanking Obama for choosing him to lead the department.
"I have today submitted my resignation as secretary of Defense. It's been the greatest privilege of my life," he said.
"I will stay on this job and work just as hard as I have over the last couple of years, every day, every moment, until my successor is confirmed by the United States Senate," he said.
Attorney General Eric Holder is another official who has said he would resign once a new department leader is confirmed. It's still unclear when the Senate will consider a new Attorney General, but it's expected to be next year.
Havel is the first cabinet official under Obama to resign after the midterm elections.