Is former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel’s bid to become Barack Obama’s Secretary of Defense in trouble? There are a couple of givens:
1. It is a given the media will cover it like a horse race and keep the suspense going…not because of any conspiracy or attempt to hype the story but because it ain’t over until it’s over. And after today it most assuredly doesn’t look like it’s over.
2. It’s a given that Arizona Senator John McCain will again slip into the bitter John McCain mode from time to time, being virtually unrecognizable from the John McCain of 2000 who seemed more than a Republican or Democratic party hack. Today he was in that bitter mode. And then some. So much for civility, or letting actually Hagel answer. McCain might as well have jumped up and seized Hagel’s mouth and formed the words for Hagle because McCain wanted Hagel to say specific things and wasn’t interested in letting him advance beyond what he wanted him to say.
3. It’s a given that if GOPers find a way to stop Hagel they’ll jump on it because the name of the game is to show their power — far less than just policy. Yes, Hagel’s views matter, but if they can sink an Obama nominee its a political notch on their belts.
What is now certain is that Hagel’s nomination which still could pass could face a united Republican effort to defeat him. Buzzfeed:
Chuck Hagel’s chances of becoming the next Secretary of Defense might have diminished somewhat Thursday, after a choppy first half to his confirmation hearing emboldened Senate Republicans who think they may actually be able to prevent his confirmation.
“There’s a possibility Republicans could block his nomination, especially after today’s performance,” a Senate Republican aide confirmed to BuzzFeed.
Leading up to the hearing, Hagel looked like a virtual lock to be confirmed despite some Republican opposition, as he made the rounds in meetings with lawmakers. And it remains unlikely that his opponents will gather enough to support to block him.
Indeed, more meetings are still to come, and a number of lawmakers are withholding their judgment until then. Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander said his decision “will depend upon the hearing today and my meeting with him next week.”
But the fact that some Hagel’s most ardent critics now feel momentum is on their side is a testament to just how poorly Hagel performed, fumbling answers to questions about Israel and Iran, and frustrating Republican Senators who might otherwise have given him a pass.
Sen. John McCain, whose questions about the Iraq surge Hagel refused to answer directly, said after the first half of the hearing that he did not yet know whether he will support Hagel — but McCain was unambiguously disappointed in Hagel’s testimony.
That’s an accurate statement except it leaves out what you saw if you watched it: McCain came across as an aggressive verbal bully, seemingly trying to leave the impression about how right McCain was about the Iraq war and the surge and less interested in really extracting info from Hagel. It was questioning of Hagel — but more about John McCain.
The bottom line? The Hagel nomination still seems likely but it has hit rough political water, partly because of angry Typhoon McCain.
UPDATE: Great minds think alike. John Avlon:
The contentious Senate hearing for Secretary of Defense nominee Chuck Hagel divided starkly along partisan lines, with Republicans attacking their former colleague with the pitchfork zeal of heretic hunters
Hagel’s calm recitation of consensus catechism on issues ranging from Iran to Israel to nuclear weapons didn’t seem to make any impression on his conservative critics.
This was personal. John McCain repeatedly interrupted his “old friend” and fellow Vietnam Vet with palpable anger, his fury directed at Hagel’s opposition to the Iraq War and the 2007 troop surge. The core offense appeared to be Hagel’s contention that the invasion of Iraq was the worst foreign policy “disaster” since Vietnam – a parallel that infuriates McCain.
After some more analysis Avalon writes:
A Democratic President nominating a Republican to his cabinet is usually seen as bipartisan outreach. But not this time. The reason, I think, is threefold.
First, it reflects the polarization afflicting the Republican party and its intolerance of dissent. Hagel is a small-government conservative but a committed internationalist who is wary of unilateral American over-extension, views that extend from his experience as a twice-wounded enlisted infantryman in Vietnam.
Second, it reflects the tortured legacy of the Iraq War and the contradictions it creates for conservatives who feel compelled to defend that war of choice, predicated on flawed intelligence presented to the American people. Hagel earned the enduring anger of the neo-conservative crowd by openly criticizing the Bush administration for its prosecution of the Iraq war and subsequently opposing the Surge. Defenders of the Bush administration now often try to delink the decision to invade from the decision to double down with the surge as a way of reclaiming the high ground. It is now clear that Hagel was right at least on this count: the invasion of Iraq was an ideologically driven overreach that proved a costly distraction from Afghanistan in terms of both blood and treasure while further destabilizing the region. History, as Hagel noted, will be the ultimate judge.
Third, it reflects the deep animus that still exists for President Obama on the part of some conservatives–so much so that any Republican who consents to serve with him is seen as a traitor to the tribe, a dynamic also seen in the GOP’s primary rejection of Utah governor and former Obama China Ambassador Jon Huntsman, despite being arguably the most fiscally conservative candidate in the 2012 pack. By consenting to serve with President Obama–and therefore creating bipartisan cover for the Democrat’s defense strategy–Hagel has committed an unpardonable sin.
For conservative partisans, Hagel is now the embodiment of all these irritants. The Republican senators’ persistent disrespect for their former colleague of twelve years was striking and ugly, setting a record for interruptions.
Shall we boil down what we saw?
It wasn’t a display of a Senate confirmation; it was a display of ideological and partisan hackery.
I was reminded of a few key things today. The first is that the Republican party in Washington has no regrets about the Iraq War. McCain and Butters reveled in the same utter certainty of their moral and strategic high ground today as they did in the run-up to the worst foreign policy mistake since Vietnam, after the worst national security lapse since Pearl Harbor. Sure, we were so negligent we allowed more than 3,000 innocents to be mass-murdered not far from where I am typing this; yes, we reacted to the atrocity by bungling the search for the actual culprits, brutally torturing countless suspects (some to death), and then starting a second war on false grounds that cost a trillion dollars and tens of thousands of American and Iraqi lives. But you, Mr Hagel, were wrong about the surge!
He wasn’t, as I have long argued.
John Avlon is rightly incensed by this disgusting insinuation – and the whole fracas. But the Senate GOP does not surprise. Even after the catastrophes in Iraq and Afghanistan, neoconservatism in its most paranoid and aggressive form still reigns supreme. We won both wars; we never tortured anyone; there is no such thing as the Greater Israel Lobby and it never intimidates anyone and has never defended any dumb idea (like settling half a million Israelis in a conquered territory). And the proof that the fever still has not broken was Hagel’s dreadful, inarticulate surrender on anything he had ever thought or said.
So the question is: will the conventional wisdom hold that he will be confirmed in the end? Or will it be yet one more conventional wisdom proven inaccurate, and quietly swept under the rug as the new certainty is stated and restated by new and old media pundits?