Lindsey Graham, a senator for South Carolina, described the selection as an "in-your-face nomination", adding that Mr Hagel "would be the most antagonistic secretary of defence towards the state of Israel in our nation's history".
Despite being a Republican who sat in the Senate for the party from 1997 to 2009, Mr Hagel holds markedly less hawkish views on foreign and military policy than many former colleagues. The Vietnam veteran endorsed Mr Obama, a Democrat, in 2008, having criticised the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and urging a less gung-ho approach to America's alliance with Israel.
In a 2006 interview, he said that the "political reality" of Washington was that "the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here", prom-pting allegations that his views verged on anti-Semitic.
"I'm not an Israeli senator. I'm a United States senator," he said in 2008.
Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the upper chamber, predicted that Mr Hagel would face "a lot of tough questions" from disgruntled Republicans. "His views with regard to Israel and Iran, and all the other positions that he's taken over the years, will be very much a matter of discussion," he said.
Mr Obama's Democratic party holds a majority in the Senate, and it is highly unusual for a president's opponents to block appointments.
However, Republicans could wield the filibuster – an obstructive tactic – to prevent a vote.
The choice of Mr Hagel was defended by Heidi Heitkamp, a Democratic senator, who described him as "a tremendous patriot and statesman".
The controversy comes weeks after Republican opposition dashed the hopes of Susan Rice, reportedly Mr Obama's first choice as secretary of state. (© Daily Telegraph, London)