President Barack Obama on Sunday defended former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel.

Hagel, considered to be on Obama's short list of candidates to succeed Leon Panetta as secretary of defense, has come under fire for comments he made in 1998 opposing James Hormel's nomination as U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg, saying he was a bad fit because he's “openly, aggressively gay.”

Hagel apologized for the comments last week.

“My comments 14 years ago in 1998 were insensitive,” Hagel said in a statement. “They do not reflect my views or the totality of my public record, and I apologize to Ambassador Hormel and any LGBT Americans who may question my commitment to their civil rights. I am fully supportive of 'open service' and committed to LGBT military families.”

In an appearance on NBC's Meet The Press, Obama said he sees nothing which would disqualify Hagel from succeeding Panetta.

“I've served with Chuck Hagel,” Obama said. “I know him,. He is a patriot. He is somebody who has done extraordinary work both in the United States Senate, somebody who served this country with valor in Vietnam, and is somebody who's currently serving on my Intelligence Advisory Board and doing an outstanding job.”

Obama noted Hagel's apology.

“And I think it's a testimony to what has been a positive change over the last decade in terms of people's attitudes about gays and lesbians serving our country. And that's something that I'm very proud to have led. And I think that anybody who serves in my administration understands my attitude and position on those issues.”

Hagel's loudest critic on the comments has been gay GOP group Log Cabin Republicans, which took out a full page ad in The New York Times describing Hagel, a Republican, as “wrong on gay rights.”