Can Chuck Hagel Overcome?

To become the next Defense Secretary, Chuck Hagel must overcome at his confirmation hearing today the charges that he's a corrupt, anti-woman, anti-gay, anti-Israel, Iranian-loving, Castro-cuddling chicken-hawk.

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SAUL LOEB / AFP / Getty Images

Former Senator Chuck Hagel, President Barack Obama's nominee for Secretary of Defense, testifies during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 31, 2013.

To hear Chuck Hagel’s detractors tell it, he’s a corrupt, anti-woman, anti-gay, anti-Israel, Iranian-loving, Castro-cuddling chicken-hawk who will hide behind his two Vietnam Purple Hearts as he slashes the Pentagon budget and gets rid of America’s nuclear arsenal. For all these reasons, they say, Hagel should not succeed Leon Panetta as Secretary of Defense.

Outside groups have mounted one of the largest opposition efforts against a cabinet nominee in history. Not since Moveon.org’s successful opposition to George W. Bush’s pick of John Bolton as United Nations ambassador has a nominee undergone such scrutiny (Bolton, when blocked by the Senate, was eventually appointed to the job during congressional recess). And that was before the Citizens United case; Hagel has to contend with millions of dollars in negative television ads and mailers.

Despite the blitz, Hagel’s nomination looks likely to pass the Senate assuming he can survive Thursday’s confirmation hearing in the Senate Armed Services Committee. Earlier this week, Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Senate whip, said that all 55 members of the Senate Democratic caucus will vote for Hagel – though many Democrats have decided to publically withhold their support until after the hearing.  Republican Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi has said he will also vote for Hagel, which means Hagel need only muster another four GOP votes, assuming his nomination is even filibustered.

Those four votes are riding on what Hagel, a former Republican Senator from Nebraska, says at his hearing. Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican, and many of Hagel’s erstwhile GOP colleagues, were upset when Hagel opposed the surge and became an outspoken critic of the Bush Administration on the handling of the Iraqi reconstruction. Hagel didn’t help matters when he also endorsed Barack Obama over McCain in the 2008 presidential election and Democrat Bob Kerrey over Deb Fischer in last year’s Nebraska Senate race. But, as Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, said, “It’s not a matter of personalities. Chuck Hagel’s an honorable man.”

Republicans have other concerns such as Hagel’s past comments advocating for direct engagement with Iran (a position once held by presidential candidate Barack Obama), past votes in 2001 and 2008 against Iran sanctions and a comment about how the “Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people,” for which Hagel has apologized. Republicans have also voiced concerns about Hagel’s 2011 comments to the Financial Times that the Pentagon budget is “bloated.” Others have also been upset at his support of a group called Global Zero, which seeks to eradicate nuclear arms globally, even though Hagel has said he would not support unilateral U.S. reductions.

Chuck Hagel

REUTERS/Jason Reed

But as Hagel has made the rounds, meeting privately with GOP senators and Jewish groups, he has assuaged many concerns. Though they are withholding final judgment until after the hearing, McCain and Republican Senators Susan Collins of Maine, Nebraska’s Fischer, Mike Lee of Utah and New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte were much pacified after meeting with Hagel and their criticisms muted. “It was a pleasant conversation,” McCain said, “between old friends.”

Thus far James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, David Vitter (R-LA), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Tom Coburn (R-OK), Pat Roberts (R-KS), Dan Coats (R-IN) and John Cornyn (R-TX) have confirmed they will under no circumstances support Hagel’s nomination. Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said he might move to block Hagel’s nomination if Panetta does not agree to testify before the committee on the Benghazi attacks in September last year that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. A Panetta testimony has not yet been confirmed.

Democrats have voiced concerns about a comment Hagel made in 1998 about an ambassadorial nominee being “too gay” for the job, a comment for which Hagel has apologized. Democratic Senators Chuck Schumer of New York and California’s Barbara Boxer, the strongest Democratic proponents of Israel, had voiced concerns about Hagel’s stances on Iran. But both backed down after meetings with Hagel where he pledged to fully support Obama’s policy of prevention.

Hagel’s financial disclosures this week also raised some alarm bells as he sits on the board of Chevron and Deutsche Bank, which is under investigation by the Treasury Department for its dealings with Iran. Hagel has said he’d quit those boards and divest his Chevron stock if confirmed.

By Wednesday even Republicans aides were privately conceding that Hagel would be confirmed barring any major gaffes in Thursday’s hearing. And attacking too overtly someone they will likely have to work closely with once confirmed might hold back some of Hagel’s harshest critics. Which means that Thursday’s hearing, while still pivotal, is more likely to clear Hagel’s path than block it.

22 comments
JohnDahodi
JohnDahodi

After the drama, finally Mr. Hagel will be nominated and approved for the Secretary of the State post but by that it would be a new Hagel, his wings will be cut to fit the Zionist groups and Neocons too. It is time for Obama to make a history by passing gun control bill, Immigration Bill and revising our foreign policies JUST TO FIT OUR INTEREST RATHER THAN ONE TINY NATION AGAINST MORE THAN HALF OF THE WORLD.   

JeanPierreKatz
JeanPierreKatz

Hagel's refusal to answer to answer questions contradict his attempt to portray his positions as consistent.


Iran more than ever will understand his confirmation as a green light for it's nuclear weapons.


They know the real Hagel, and then assume the real Obama, would never strike Iran,


Therefore, they will never agree to stand down in negotiations when there is no military threat.


I hope some Senators respond to his refusal to answer important questions with a fillabuster of this terrible choice for our defense.

DwightJones
DwightJones

If cutting spending is the Republican mantra, then a smaller military should be their policy. If not, then you can be pretty sure that the US is a military dictatorship.

deconstructiva
deconstructiva

Thanks, Jay. Who's most likely to lead a filibuster, if at all? Lindsay Graham, perhaps, or more TP-led Senators? Or that's not going to happen and there will be lots of rants and whining but no credible obstruction?


Adam_Smith
Adam_Smith

We know who the ideological opposition to Chuck Hagel’s appointment is, it's the neoconservatives. This is a group that has long been guided by the slogan "personnel is policy". That idea goes a long way to accounting for the remarkable resilience of their influence in the face of discredited assessments and predictions. Their political tactics have been as brilliant as their geostrategy has been lame. Sen. Hagel should not take their opposition personally. It isn't at all personal, (although the neocons will not hesitate to impunge his character to achieve their ends), it is really just business; i.e., ideology.


smehgol
smehgol

Netanyahu's Israel, AIPAC, Israel Firsters and ingenious distribution of enormous amounts of Jewish money have corrupted our electoral system and successfully involved us in continuing wars against our interests. Chuck Hagel is one of the few who has resisted. The Government of the United States must again serve American interests, not Israel's paranoid pursuit of invulnerability, territorial conquest and apartheid supremacist empire in, and beyond, the Mideast.

cent-fan
cent-fan

As Japan found out after Pearl Harbor, an economic threat has far more returns than a military action in the long run.  Iran is hoping to be attacked so that any disunity in their populace can be ended.  Not being attacked is far more frustrating to the people who want to see Iran dance on the world stage and step on the toes of the West.

A pocket nuke is a serious danger, something military strikes couldn't hope to prevent, but one nuclear tipped missle leaving anyone like Iran, North Korea, or even Pakistan only guarantees they will end their ambitions as a smoking hole.

superlogi
superlogi

@DwightJones Cutting National Defense has never been a Republican mantra.  You're thinking of the other party which would, if it could, make all of its nanny programs mandatory spending instead of discretionary as national defense is.  But then, very few progressives have ever served and aren't very concerned with those of us who have, being provided second rate support and equipment.  But, just don't mess with their food stamps.

nflfoghorn
nflfoghorn

Just like the NRA, it's not its members that are causing the problem, it's the government.

DwightJones
DwightJones

@smehgol I couldn't agree more. We are not allowed to discuss the possibility of global security under the auspices of the UN (yet). But that will come - countries allying with each other under its aegis - and the US will have to perceive its opportunity to return to isolationism and financial healing. Or go bankrupt by staying the course - which is imminent. Hagel is a first step toward rationalization of US foreign policy.

DwightJones
DwightJones

@superlogi @DwightJones I said "cutting spending" is the Republican mantra. Since you see Defence spending as 'discretionary", then some Republicans should support such cuts. They don't because they would just as soon bankrupt the country before admitting that America doesn't even have any credible enemies.

PaulDirks
PaulDirks

@superlogi @DwightJonesbeing provided second rate support and equipment.

Notice how it never occurs to superlogi that the 'second rate support and equipment' is due to the lack accountability in the supply chain which in turn is directly related to the blank check provided by Congress. 

DwightJones
DwightJones

@superlogi @DwightJones  You seem to have no compunctions about eliminating health care and old age programs - why not education too? - and have "the best country in the world" do absolutely nothing for its citizens. Yet the idea that the US is going broke the same way the Soviets did building 500 submarines - just doesn't occur to you. You have to hope Obama can hold it together, and work around you.

cent-fan
cent-fan

If you take the next 17 highest defense budgets of the world, including China, Russia, England, Japan, and Germany, and add them all up they don't equal what we spend on defense.

http://www.economist.com/blogs/dailychart/2011/06/military-spending

Yeah, Superlogi, you're the American patsy these governments want.  You would let all these countries sit back and wait for us to show up and save their a$$ with our money and our blood... and never look twice at why we're dumping money to cover the rest of the world.

superlogi
superlogi

@DwightJones @superlogi Assuming you can figure out how to use a search engine, you should search for the US Budget and which programs get the most funding.  You might start with Medicare or Social Security.  Compare them to Defense spending.

PS Defense spending is discretionary.  And, its our entitlement/welfare programs which are bankrupting the country.  Even a liberal who understands basic mathematics understands that much.

superlogi
superlogi

@PaulDirks @superlogi @DwightJones Notice how it never occurs to Dirks that if the left was as concerned about attacking waste, fraud, abuse and reducing pork to purchase votes as they were in downsizing the military, we wouldn't be having this conversation.