Chuck Hagel, the former Nebraska senator nominated by President Barack Obama to be his next secretary of defense, goes before the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday morning for the beginning of his confirmation hearings.
After weeks of maneuvering by his supporters and opponents, the battle of Hagel, if there is to be one, is finally joined.
Hagel, a Republican, has been doing the dance on the Hill for weeks now, seeking support from his fellow party members.
Democrats and their allies hold a 55-to-45 advantage in the Senate, but since the ever-present filibuster threat means 60 votes are needed to pass anything, Hagel will need five votes from the Republican side to make the cut. So far only one Republican senator, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, has openly committed to voting to confirm Hagel.
At issue here for the GOP is that Hagel has broken ranks with his party on serious security issues such as Iran and military spending. A blunt speaker, Hagel’s own word may just return to haunt him.
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Having once referred to pro-Israel groups as the “Jewish lobby,” Hagel ignited bad blood from that quarter.
In 2006, Hagel told former Middle East peace negotiator Aaron David Miller that, “The Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people. ... I’ve always argued against some of the dumb things they do, because I don’t think it’s in the interest of Israel.”
Critics have accused Hagel of hostility to Israel, and in some cases, anti-Semitism.
Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, said on the Senate floor Wednesday that the “infamous comment” is a revealing remark. Earlier this week, Cornyn said Hagel, a decorated Vietnam veteran, is too “naïve” to be an effective secretary of defense and that “he’s the wrong man for the job.”
“His positions on everything from a nuclear Iran to direct negotiations with State Department-designated terrorist organizations like Hamas,” Cornyn went on. “His embrace of these naïve ideas like a nuclear-free world, which is fine to say, ‘I hope and I wish and I pray that it would be that way.’ But it is not realistic and it’s naïve particularly among the person who is supposed to represent American national security and keep the peace.”
Cornyn also told “Fox and Friends” on Monday that he’s worried Obama chose Hagel because the Defense Department is the only area the president seems willing to cut.
“He’s not interested in reining in spending in almost any other area except national security,” Cornyn said.
A sequester that will cut billions in defense spending is set to go in effect on March 1.
But Hagel plans to counter his adversaries Thursday, as media outlets that have gotten hold of his advance testimony reported that Hagel will tackle Iran and foreign investment in the U.S. defense sector.