WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama is expected to name Ashton Carter as the next secretary of defense, according to the Associated Press. Carter, a former deputy defense secretary, will be nominated to replace Chuck Hagel, who announced he will step down next month after disputes over running the Pentagon and how to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Carter, 60, was viewed as a safe pick by the president. He will need to gain the approval of a Republican-controlled Senate in January. Carter already passed through the confirmation process once, garnering no opposition from Republicans on the first try.  

While Carter will likely have an easier time gaining approval than some other options, he will likely be subject to a battery of questions from Republican senators. Carter’s nomination process will put Obama’s policies on Syria and Iraq center stage in Congress.

Many Republicans hoped that the departure of Hagel, 68, will be used as an opportunity for Obama to reset his strategy for fighting the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Carter will face a barrage of questions about the direction of that policy during his confirmation process.

The nomination will be ushered through Congress by Republican Sen. John McCain, who will take over as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee in January. McCain, one of the most hawkish members of the Senate, will want to hear aggressive plans to respond to ISIS. But to Obama’s benefit, McCain is unlikely to filibuster Carter’s nomination, having frequently said a president is entitled to his choice of cabinet members.

Carter was one of three candidates who were floated by the White House when Hagel’s departure was announced last week. Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed, a Democrat, was quick to push back at the suggestion he could be the next defense secretary, especially since he would be forfeiting a safe Senate seat for a two-year appointment to run the Pentagon. Michèle Flournoy withdrew herself from consideration last week, citing family demands.