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Chuck Hagel Hearing LIVE: Will Chuck Hagel Be Confirmed For Secretary of Defense?

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Chuck Hagel Israel Comments At the Forefront Of Confirmation Hearing

An embarrassing spectacle is currently unfolding on Capitol Hill, as former Senator Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) is being asked over and over — by Republicans and Democrats alike — about his level of support for the Israeli government. Most of the inquiries have little to do with specific policies, and more to do with his statements regarding what he called the "Jewish lobby" and its influence in Washington. Hagel said he regrets the remark, and that he should have said "pro-Israel lobby" instead. 

The ironic part of all this is that these questions would be more relevant in hearing were Hagel nominated for secretary of state — the nation's chief diplomat. The secretary of defense is first and foremost charged with implementing the president's national security. This is perhaps instructive, as many lawmakers consider American and Israeli national security one and the same. 

John McCain Rips Hagel in Senate Hearing, But Had Proposed Him For Secretary of Defense In 2000

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McCain went on the attack against Hagel during his confirmation hearings for Secretary of Defense at the Senate Armed Services Committee, blasting him with a vigor Republicans generally reserve for communists and spree shooters.

After Hagel attempted to elaborate on his stance on the Iraq War surge beyond McCain's request for a flat-out "yes or no" answer, a visibily angered McCain said "that's a direct question, and I demand a direct answer."

Sen. McCain claimed that Hagel's views were in "fundamental" conflict with his own, and proceeded to attack Hagel's statement that he would need more information to evaluate what steps needed to be taken to control the Syrian civil war.

"How many more would have to die before you would support arming the resistance and establishing a no fly zone?" McCain asked.

These are pretty harsh putdowns. McCain was clearly against Hagel's nomination.

But during his 2000 presidential run, who did John McCain suggest would be an ideal secretary of defense?

"There's a lot of people that could do that," he told voters at a January town hall in New Hampshire. "One of 'em, I think, is Sen. Chuck Hagel."

Hagel's views have been consistent and clear throughout the entirety of his political career. Not much has changed since 2000, except their split over continuance of the Iraq war. So how can McCain consider Hagel's worldview "fundamentally" against his? 

If this was about Iraq, McCain would have said he cannot support Hagel's nomination solely due to that issue. But he went further and suggested Hagel was completely unacceptable on ideological grounds.

So is McCain's beef with Hagel, or does he just want to attack him because it will protect AIPAC's unchallenged influence in D.C. and look good on camera?

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John McCain Grills Hagel, Signaling Confirmation Will Be Tough Fight

Picture Credit: C. Berlet

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is a key figure in Chuck Hagel's nomination fight: the two Vietnam veterans are old friends, and McCain was widely predicted to have significant influence in whether Hagel would become Secretary of Defense.

The logic goes like this: If McCain, fresh off killing Susan Rice's nomination for that same role, goes easy on Hagel, it would be an indication that the GOP would follow his lead and begrudgingly let Hagel assume the job. If he attacks, then it would be a signal that Republicans will continue to savage the nominee and do all they could to stall or block entirely the confirmation process.

We now know his decision: attack.

McCain repeatedly pressed Hagel on his statement that the Iraq war surge was "the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam," saying that Hagel had continued his opposition "even to the point the surge was succeeding" and called it a "quagmire." The senator demanded Hagel say yes or no to whether he stood by his statement.

Hagel indicated that he stood by it, since he said it, to which a visibly angered McCain responded "that's a direct question, and I demand a direct answer." After Hagel asked for time to elaborate, McCain asked the committee to record that Hagel had refused to answer the question.

Hagel explained that his opposition to the surge was based in his belief that the Iraq waer was a "war of choice," and said he still felt the surge was the most "bad, dangerous decision since Vietnam. Aside from the cost to this country in blood and treasure, aside from what that did to take our focus off Afghanistan" - which he called the "original and real threat" to America after 9/11 - he still opposed the surge on moral and ethical grounds.

McCain called this a "fundamental" divergence in opinion, indicating he would not support Hagel. He then pressed Hagel further, telling him his opposition to the surge went against the sacrifice of thousands of American lives.

In response to a question on Syria, Hagel commented that he would need to assume his role as secretary of defense and examine the best available intelligence before making decisions. This seems like a reasonable response, but McCain did not like this at all. The senator did not even bother to qualify his disgust with the answer with a question regarding Hagel's overall stance towards the Syrian issue; instead, he just proceeded to viciously paint Hagel as uncaring and uninterested in helping the Syrian resistance.

"How many more would have to die before you would support arming the [Syrian] resistance and establishing a no fly zone?" McCain bellowed.

Expect a long, bitter fight. Hagel is in for a rough ride.

Chuck Hagel Hearing: Hagel Opens By Firing Back At Critics

No one individual vote, quote, or statement defines me, my beliefs, or my record.

- Chuck Hagel

Hagel began his opening statement by saying he was humbled by the decision to nominate him as the nation's defense secretary.

 
Hagel pledged he would always give President Obama his most informed and honest advice, and that national security would be his first and foremost priority in any situation.
 
And he went on the offensive against senate Republicans who claim Hagel would pursue a strategy of "appeasement" against America's enemies and abandon Israel, saying that his previous remarks that he was "an American senator, not an Israeli senator" did not indicate he held any anti-Israeli beliefs.
 
"No one individual vote, quote, or statement defines me, my beliefs, or my record," Hagel said.
 
"My overall worldview has never changed: that America has and must maintain the strongest military in the world; that we must lead the international community to confront threats and challenges together; and that we must use all tools of American power to protect our citizens and our interests. I believe, and always have, that America must engage -- not retreat -- in the world. My record is consistent on these points," he continued.
 
Contesting critics who say he is soft on the Iranian nuclear program, Hagel said that "my policy is one of prevention, and not one of containment - and the president has made clear that is the policy of our government."
 
Hagel promised to keep the military strong even if Congress cuts the defense budget.
 
"I am committed to effectively and efficiently using every single taxpayer dollar; to maintaining the strongest military in the world; and to working with Congress to ensure the department has the resources it needs -- and that the disposition of those resources is accountable."
 
If confirmed, Hagel will be the first enlisted person to serve as Defense Secretary. He was a decorated sergeant in the Army during the Vietnam War.

John Warner to Chuck Hagel: "You are on your own. Good luck."

Picture Credit: DOD.mil

Hagel chose former Virginia Senator Mark Warner, a Republican, to introduce him to the Senate Armed Services Committee panel which is grilling him on his nomination for secretary of defense today.

Accompanied by former Georgia Senator Sam Nunn, a Democrat, Warner laid out a powerful argument in favor of Hagel's confirmation, saying that rather than read from a prepaed statement he would "speak from the heart.” Warner claims to have never read an opening statement more "forthright," or one with fewer "hedges or deviations" than Hagel's.

Warner commended Hagel's views and said that the nominee's service in Vietnam helped prepare him for the responsibilities of a Secretary of Defense, as well as said his realistic view of war and commitment to America's service member added to his qualifications for the role.

Introducing Hagel, however, he cautioned him with a final joke that sounded like a warning: "You are own your own now. Good luck."

Hagel Nomination Hearing: Jim Inhofe Hits Hagel Hard

@BennetJohnT: Inhofe hits Hagel for being an apppeaser. The gloves are off early, folks. This is going to be ugly. #Hagel #Israel #Iran #GOP

We're only a few minutes into Hagel's hearing, and the gloves are off. 

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) ripped into Hagel before he even had a chance to speak, saying Hagel would "embolden our enemies and endanger our allies" and that "he is the wrong person to lead the Pentagon."

Inhofe said that Hagel's recent "willingness to walk-back or alter his positions for the sake of political expediency" is "deeply troubling," and said that the Secretary of Defense nominee's "record is deeply troubling and out of the mainstream."

In a Sunday interview, Inhofe elaborated on his views on Hagel.

"I like Chuck Hagel. He was a war hero and he made his sacrifices more than I did in the service," Inhofe said. "But philosophically he is right along with Obama and I can see Obama saying, 'Well here is a conservative Republican former senator who agrees with me on all this so this is bipartisan.' Well I don't want that label of bipartisanship to follow on all of his policy toward North Korea, Syria, Iran, and even Egypt. So I am very much concerned about giving him that added impetus to do the things that I think are destroying America."

"You know, four years ago I think I was the only one yelling and screaming and was upset because the first trip that our president, newly elected president four years ago, Obama, did was to go to Egypt and make all of the entrees onto the terrorists. And I just don't understand how it can get worse than that but I think it will get worse," Inhofe continued.

Chuck Hagel Nomination Hearing LIVE Stream: Watch Hagel Go Up Against McCain, Inhofe, Graham

Former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel will finally face congressional opposition to his nomination for secretary of defense on Thursday at 9:30 a.m. EST, appearing before some of his harshest critics in the Senate Armed Services Committee for a sure-to-be-wild hearing.

Hagel’s nomination will hinge on whether key Republicans move to block the appointment. Just one Senate Republican has said he will endorse Hagel, likely due to harsh criticism from pro-Israel activists who fear he will cut back assistance or political support to the Irsaeli government, as well as his “principled realism” that led him to oppose the Iraq War after the invasion and fight against unilateral sanctions on Iran.

When the live feed of the proceedings goes up at 9:30 a.m., return here for video, analysis of the hearing, and live updates on whether Hagel will be confirmed for SecDef.

Live Stream below, courtesy of MSNBC:

 

C-Span's live stream can be found here.

Chuck Hagel Secretary of Defense Hearing: Will His Charm Offensive Pay Off?

We’ve had a very aggressive strategy for tackling some of the issues that have been raised. I think we’re in a good place.

- Anonymous Chuck Hagel aide

Will Chuck Hagel’s “charm offensive” pay off?

Over the past few weeks, Hagel has met with more than 50 senators and leaders of special interest groups and lobbying organizations, attempting to “beat back a well-funded, aggressive campaign that has sought to depict him as an anti-Israel, homophobic politician eager to gut the Pentagon’s budget.”

Hagel’s diplomatic tactics, as well as his recent release of a 112-page report in which he struck a more conventional tone on Iran and the U.S.-Israeli relationship, may save his confirmation hearing from tanking in the coming hours.

“We’ve had a very aggressive strategy for tackling some of the issues that have been raised,” a Hagel aide said Wednesday. “I think we’re in a good place.”

“If you read the tea leaves, I think he might get more Republican votes than people might think,” the official said. “Those relationships are important.”

Chuck Hagel Hearing LIVE: Will Chuck Hagel Be Confirmed For Secretary of Defense?

Picture Credit: Department of Defense

Former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel has been battling critics for his nomination to the Obama administration’s top civilian military job for weeks – and now the Secretary of Defense nominee will taste fire when he comes head to head with the Senate Armed Services Committee for his confirmation hearing tomorrow.

The nomination rests on whether or not key Republicans will begrudgingly accept Hagel.

Republicans who think the realist senator – who is opposed to what he thinks is Israeli overreach in influencing U.S. politics, and is a harsh critic of Bush-era neoconservative foreign policy – is a bad choice for the job are lining up to take swings at Hagel, regardless of his decades of working with them as a colleague and fellow Republican.

Committee head Sen. James Inhofe (R-) wrote a Sunday op/ed (R-Okla.) in the Washington Post in which he said he was “unable to support [Hagel’s] nomination,” saying he feared Hagel would be a “staunch advocate” for reducing the size of the military and was “willing to subscribe to a worldview that is predicated on appeasing our adversaries while shunning our friends.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) says he will fight to block Hagel’s nomination until outbound Defense Secretary Leon Panetta testifies before Congress regarding the administration’s failure to prevent a terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on September 11, 2012. Graham has been one of the foremost senators to calling the administration’s actions a “cover-up” and recently commented that retiring Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had “gotten away with murder” in relation to her testimony on the attack.

But some Republicans have come forward to support Hagel. Sen. Thad Cochran, a Mississippi Republican, backed his nomination Tuesday.

As Slate reports, that endorsement is critical, as President Obama will then be just four votes away from having Hagel’s appointment confirmed without chance of a filibuster (assuming every Democrat votes for Hagel, which is likely). The really critical vote then, falls to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who is confronted with a decision on whether to harshly chastise Hagel or let him slip past the committee.

“My biggest concern is his overall attitude about the United States, our role in the world, particularly in the Middle East,” Sen. McCain said last week. “We’ll be talking more about them in the hearing.”

If McCain attacks Hagel, the nomination will be a bitter, drawn-out fight, and the nomination may be blocked. If he chooses to go easy on him, then other Republicans will recognize the nomination challenge to be pointless.

Hagel and McCain were once both friends, but have fallen out in recent years, especially since Hagel worked closely with candidate Obama in 2008. Hagel refused to endorse McCain since the two “so fundamentally disagree on the future course of our foreign policy and our role in the world.” The Iraq war played a role as well; McCain returned from Vietnam convinced that the war was just but mishandled by senior military commanders, and this led him to staunchly support continued occupation of Iraq. Hagel, however, grew to oppose the war after finding out President Johnson knew it was “fruitless but feared being impeached if he reversed course.”

Hagel later commented in 2002 that Iraq war supporters “don’t know anything about war”. He also added that “they come at it from an intellectual perspective versus having sat in jungles or foxholes and watched their friends get their heads blown off. I try to speak for those ghosts of the past a little bit.”

McCain might have good reasons to temper his opposition to Hagel. In 2012 he demolished U.S. diplomat Susan Rice’s nomination for Secretary of State, and is trying to push through a bipartisan immigration reform package which might require he moderate his stances for some time. And he recently backed Sen. John Kerry, another Vietnam war veteran who later opposed the conflict, for Secretary of State through an easy confirmation process.

For his part, Hagel is playing defense: Wednesday, he released a 112-page response to a questionnaire from the Armed Services Committee in which he emphasized his Vietnam war experience and took tough positions on Iran.

“I understand what it is like to be a soldier in war,” wrote Hagel. “I also understand what happens when there is poor morale and discipline among the troops and a lack of clear objectives, intelligence, and command and control from Washington. I believe that experience will help me as secretary of defence to ensure we maintain the best fighting force in the world, protect our men and women in uniform and ensure that we are cautious and certain when contemplating the use of force.”

Hagel will be introduced to the committee tomorrow at 9:30 AM by former Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia and former Republican Sen. John Warner of Virginia, but no formal announcement has been made by the panel.