Chuck Hagel has set out to contact all 100 members of the U.S. Senate in a push to win confirmation as secretary of defense by rebutting criticism that he’s “anti- Israel” and not tough enough on Iran.
Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska, was scheduled to meet today with Senator Charles Schumer of New York, the No. 3 Senate Democratic leader and a supporter of Israel who has said he needs to hear Hagel respond to questions before deciding whether to support him.
Hagel plans to hold dozens of such meetings in advance of hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee, according to an adviser who asked not to be identified describing the confirmation tactics. Hagel will discuss his record and issues that he would deal with if he succeeds the retiring Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, the adviser said.
Hagel, 66, came under attack from Republicans, including Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John Cornyn of Texas, even before President Barack Obama announced the choice on Jan. 7. Cornyn and at least two other Republicans have already said they will oppose the nomination.
Critics cite past statements by Hagel describing the influence of the “Jewish lobby” in Washington, warning that an attack on Iran’s nuclear program may be ineffective and opposing unilateral sanctions against Iran.
Schumer’s eventual decision will play a significant role in determining whether Hagel can overcome the criticism, said Jim Manley, a Democratic former aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
“He’s a senior member of the Democratic leadership and a strong advocate of Israel,” Manley, a senior director at the Washington-based government relations firm Quinn Gillespie & Associates, said of Schumer. “He is articulating the concerns of some Democrats and Republicans as well.”
Hagel’s supporters are working to catch up with the campaign by critics, which has included a cable-television ad in the Washington area. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” yesterday that Hagel, a twice- wounded Vietnam War veteran, is “superbly qualified” to run the Pentagon.
“He is a very strong supporter of the state of Israel,” said Powell, a Republican who backed Obama’s re-election. “It doesn’t mean you have to agree with every single position the Israeli government takes.”
Most Republicans are holding back for now. Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said yesterday on ABC’s “This Week” that Hagel’s “overall temperament” will be weighed by senators, as will as his stance on Iran and Israel. Corker said he will meet with Hagel this week.
Senator John McCain, who like Hagel is a Republican Vietnam veteran, declined to say yesterday whether he would vote for or against Hagel. Hagel was co-chairman of McCain’s 2008 campaign for president, when the Arizona senator lost to Obama.
McCain said yesterday on CBS’s “Face the Nation” program that he has “legitimate questions that need to be asked,” including about Hagel’s views on “America’s role in the world,” whether he still believes the troop surge in Iraq was a blunder, and why he opposed a resolution calling Iran’s revolutionary guard a terrorist group.
In a Jan. 7 interview, Hagel told his hometown paper, the Lincoln Journal Star, that there is “not one shred of evidence that I’m anti-Israeli, not one vote that matters that hurt Israel.” He said he declined to “sign on to certain resolutions and letters because they were counter-productive and didn’t solve a problem.”
‘Truth to Power’
Hagel’s close relationship with Obama would be an asset, Senator Jack Reed, a Democrat from Rhode Island who serves on the Armed Services Committee, said on “This Week.”
“Chuck has the wherewithal and the ability to speak truth to power,” Reed said of Hagel. “He’s demonstrated that throughout his entire career. That is a value that is extraordinarily important to the president, and I think he recognizes that, and I think that will be one of his virtues as secretary of defense.”
Tara Andringa, a spokeswoman for the Armed Services panel, said in an e-mailed statement Jan. 11 that Hagel’s nomination hearing is likely to be in late January or early February.
“The White House can’t nominate him until the Senate comes back into session,” she said. That won’t occur until after the Inauguration next week. Senator Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who leads the panel, plans to set the hearing “quickly” after receiving the nomination, Andringa said.
The Senate intelligence committee has scheduled a hearing for Feb. 7 on Obama’s choice of John Brennan as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, the panel’s chairman, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, said today in an e- mailed statement.
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