Embattled former senator Chuck Hagel (R., Neb.) will face tough questions Thursday as the Senate considers his nomination to be President Obama’s next defense secretary.
Hagel will testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee, where he will confront some of his most outspoken Republican opponents, many of them former colleagues. Senator Jim Inhofe (R., Okla.), the ranking member on the committee, has already announced his opposition to Hagel’s nomination.
“We are simply too philosophically opposed on the issues,” Inhofe said of Hagel earlier this month, citing his concern over the former senator’s positions on defense cuts, nuclear disarmament, Israel, and Iran.
Another committee member, Senator Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), has threatened to block Hagel’s nomination until current defense secretary Leon Panetta testifies on the deadly terrorist attack at a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Republican aides predict a contentious hearing in which Hagel will be forced to explain a number of things. “Expect fireworks,” said one GOP aide. “Obviously Hagel is a very controversial nominee, and he’ll have to answer some very tough questions.” The aide said to watch for Democrats to do some “backtracking” and “dancing around the issues” in an effort to defend Hagel.
All eyes will be on Senator John McCain (R., Ariz.), the former ranking member on the committee who spearheaded the successful GOP effort to derail the nomination of United Nations ambassador Susan Rice to become secretary of state. Earlier this week, McCain declined to say whether he would support Hagel’s nomination, noting that Hagel did “not really” alleviate his concerns during a recent meeting.
Primary among those concerns is Hagel’s opposition to the successful 2007 troop surge in Iraq, which he denounced as “the most dangerous foreign-policy blunder in this country since Vietnam.” That is merely one of several positions Hagel can expect to be pressed on during Thursday’s hearing.
Perhaps more than any other issue, Hagel’s stance on Israel will be heavily scrutinized. Hagel has previously criticized the “Jewish lobby” as a group that “intimidates a lot of people” on Capitol Hill, and once accused Israel of “keep[ing] Palestinians caged up like animals.” A number of Democrats have expressed concern about Hagel’s perceived antagonism toward the Jewish state. For example, Representative Eliot Engel (D., N.Y.) said in late 2012 that Hagel appeared to have “some kind of endemic hostility” toward Israel. A group of 14 retired generals and admirals wrote in a letter opposing Hagel’s nomination that the former senator’s “abiding hostility towards Israel . . . would be detrimental to our national defense.”