John McCain Grills Hagel, Signaling Confirmation Will Be Tough Fight

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.

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Tom McKay

Tom is a staff writer at Mic, covering national politics, media, policing and the war on drugs. He is based in New York and can be reached at tmckay@mic.com.

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