Key Republicans say Chuck Hagel now likely to be confirmed

Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham have led the opposition to Chuck Hagel's nomination to be secretary of defense. Now, both say former Sen. Hagel is likely to be confirmed.

By , Staff writer

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    Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., left, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. confer at the start of a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the appointment Chuck Hagel to be the next Secretary of Defense. Both McCain and Graham now predict that Hagel will be confirmed.
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If nothing else, the congressional break for the week of Presidents’ Day is a cooling-off period for the fight over former Sen. Chuck Hagel’s nomination to be secretary of defense.

Questions about President Obama’s handling of the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, which killed four Americans, including the US ambassador – an issue, by the way, which Mr. Hagel had nothing to do with – are being answered to the apparent satisfaction of Republicans … at least to the point where they’re willing to end their de facto filibuster of Hagel’s nomination.

The argument over Hagel’s reference to the power of the “Jewish lobby” on the State Department and members of Congress – a phrase frequently heard in Israel itself to describe influential lobbying efforts on behalf of the Jewish state – seems to be settled to the satisfaction of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina. Sen. Graham, along with Sen. John McCain, led the opposition to Hagel in the Senate Armed Services Committee.

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Now, Sen. McCain is ready to drop such confirmation roadblocks.

“I don't believe he's qualified, but I don't believe we should hold up his confirmation any further," McCain said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press." "I think it's a reasonable amount of time to have questions answered."

"I'm confident that Senator Hagel will probably have the votes necessary to be confirmed as secretary of defense," McCain said.

On Fox News Sunday, Graham said he’s satisfied with Hagel’s disavowing any comment about Israel and the State Department, which critics say Hagel made in 2007.

“I got a letter back from Sen. Hagel in response to my question, did you say that, and do you believe that? And the letter said he did not recall saying that. He disavows that statement,” Graham said. “If in fact that’s true, that would end the matter. I just take him at his word unless something new comes along.”

Still, Graham considers Hagel to be "one of the most unqualified, radical choices for secretary of defense in a very long time.”

"But at the end of the day," he said, "this is the president's decision. I give him great discretion."

It fell to White House chief of staff Denis McDonough to defend Hagel on the TV talk shows, where he made three appearances Sunday.

“If you look at Chuck Hagel, decorated war veteran himself, war hero. Republican senator. Somebody who over the course of the last many years, either as a Republican senator or as the chairman of the president’s Intelligence Advisory Board, I’ve worked with very closely. This guy has one thing in mind, how do we protect the country,” Mr. McDonough said on ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos.”

Criticism over the administration’s handling of the Benghazi attack was the principal issue that stopped UN Ambassador Susan Rice from being confirmed as secretary of state, and it remains a contentious point on Capitol Hill. Most recently, President Obama had to report to Congress exactly how soon he had contacted Libyan authorities once he knew of the attack.

“The president isn’t done with Benghazi,” McDonough said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday. “He’s demanded of us, since that night, to find out exactly what happened, and to make every reform needed to ensure it does not happen again.”

The politics of the Hagel nomination are obvious to those aware of election cycles – particularly regarding Sen. Graham, who faces reelection next year and the likelihood of a challenge from his right (as did Sen. McCain in 2010).

“Graham's antics have as much to do with events in Columbia, S.C., as with events in Washington,” writes Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank. “His sentiments are no doubt genuine, but the ferocity with which he has been attacking the Obama administration – taking a high-profile role on Benghazi, Susan Rice, Hagel and gun control – are helping him to repel a tea party primary challenge at home.”

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