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The Journal Gazette

Thursday, February 14, 2013 1:04 pm

Panetta weary of fight over his successor

By ROBERT BURNSAP National Security Writer

The fight in Congress over confirming Leon Panetta's successor as defense secretary is getting on his nerves.

After two formal Pentagon farewell ceremonies and weeks of preparing Chuck Hagel to take over, Panetta let fly Thursday with a few choice words for the partisan struggle on Capitol Hill over a Hagel confirmation vote.

Panetta, who will retire to his home in California to resume running a public policy institute with his wife, Sylvia, told a Pentagon award ceremony for former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that it was fitting to recognize her on Valentine's Day.

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

"I feel like it's `Groundhog Day' around here," he added, referring to the 1993 movie about a television weatherman who repeatedly relives the same day.

Panetta, 74, who initially balked at taking the Pentagon job in July 2011, replacing Robert Gates, has made no secret of his eagerness for retirement. He has spent much of the past 50 years in Washington, including 16 years in Congress, a stint as President Bill Clinton's chief of staff and two years as director of the CIA.

That experience has left him weary of "political dysfunction," Panetta said, and "a little less tolerant of BS in general."

Noting Hillary Clinton's beaming smile as she listened to him praise her career in government service, Panetta said, "I'm going to have as broad a smile as she does - hopefully - in a few days." Struggling to restrain his obvious impatience, he added, "My office is packed up. Sylvia is packing at home. I'm ready to go."

Panetta has committed to staying on the job until his successor is confirmed. Hagel had his Senate confirmation hearing on Jan. 31, but the Senate has since become embroiled in a partisan fight that some Republicans have linked to demands that the White House provide more details about President Barack Obama's handling of the terrorist attack on U.S. government compounds in Benghazi, Libya, last September.