Senate 'old boy' network is misfiring on Hagel nomination

While senators typically support their own in confirmation hearings,  that is not the case for former Senator Hagel, whose nomination to be secretary of defense is under heavy fire.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
President Barack Obama listens in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Monday, Jan. 7, where he announced that he is nominating former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, (r.), as the new defense secretary.

Conventional wisdom has it that Senate confirmation hearings go smoothly when the Senate is confirming one of its own. That may well prove to be the case for Sen. John Kerry (D) of Massachusetts, who is expected to windsurf through his confirmation hearing to replace (former Sen.) Hillary Rodham Clinton (D) of New York as secretary of state.

But former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R) of Nebraska, a storied maverick, is already facing headwinds from senators on both sides of the aisle in in his confirmation to be Secretary of Defense.

On Sunday, Sen. Bob Corker (R) of Tennessee, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, raised concerns about Mr. Hagel’s “overall temperament.”

“Is he suited to run a department or a big agency or a big entity like the Pentagon,” Senator Corker asked on ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos.”

“I think there are numbers of staffers who are coming forth now just talking about the way he has dealt with them,” said Corker, who added that he begins the process with “an open mind.”

Other GOP critics question Hagel’s overall world view, especially his vision of American power, willingness to accept defense cuts, and understanding of the US relationship with Israel.

“My question is: What is his view of America’s role in the world,” said Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona, on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday. “Does he really believe the surge [of 30,000 US forces into Iraq in 2007] is the worst blunder since Vietnam?”

The two men, both severely injured in the Vietnam War, were once close. Hagel was a co-chair of Senator McCain’s first presidential run in 2000, but did not back him in 2008. "I have always believed that a president deserves the right to choose his own team, but there are significant questions," McCain said.

By contrast, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Gulf War, called Hagel “superbly qualified,” in an appearance Sunday NBC’s “Meet the Press.”  “I think he's had a very, very distinguished public service record that he can stand on.”

A maverick in an era of gridlock, Hagel riled many of his GOP colleagues for not supporting President Bush's conduct of the Iraq war. He alarmed senators on both sides of the aisle with his views on Iran and criticism of the power of the “Jewish lobby” in Washington.

“That term slips out from time to time,” said Powell, in Hagel’s defense. “And so, Chuck should have said Israeli lobby, not Jewish lobby, and perhaps he needs to write on a blackboard a hundred times it is the Israeli lobby.”

“But there is an Israeli lobby. There are people who are very supportive of the State of Israel. I am very supportive of the State of Israel. So is Senator Hagel and you will see this in the confirmation hearings,” he added. “But it doesn’t mean you have to agree with every single position that the Israeli government takes.”

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