After a grueling session before the Senate Armed Forces committee on Friday, which suggested a lack of preparation and weak grasp of issues that would be presented, Chuck Hagel got some good news on Saturday. In addition to the support of the White House, a key Republican endorsement was made, making his confirmation seem much more likely.
Saturday, Jay Carney, the White House spokesman, declared Hagel did a "fine job" and the administration would be stunned if Republicans tried to block the nomination of a decorated Vietnam veteran and former two-term GOP senator from Nebraska.
"The president believes Sen. Hagel will make an excellent secretary of defense and that he will be confirmed, and he looks forward to working with Sen. Hagel in that position as we continue to advance our national security priorities." Carney said. He did not elaborate on what those security priorities are.
During the confirmation hearing, Hagel seemed poorly prepared as he fielded questions from committee members. He set the table, declaring no single statement or vote made as a Senator should define what his beliefs are, or indicate what his policies would be. Still, when questions came, he responded with uncertainty about current Administration policies, and had trouble explaining his statements from the past into a cohesive position. When Lindsey Graham (R-SC) questioned a statement then-Senator Hagel made about the "Jewish Lobby" having too much involvement in US law-making; Hagel attempted to re-state his concern as "excess Jewish influence in making policy". Graham asked him to give an example of a Senator, or a policy, which was the result of "Jewish influence". Hagel could not. The two sparred over policy in handling the nuclear threat coming from Iran.
After the shaky performance, the Democratic members drew ranks with the President's nominee, and Republicans began announcing their formal opposition. Roy Blunt (R-MO), Mark Kirk (R-IL), and Richard Burr (R-NC) declared their opposition to Hagel's nomination. In all, about a dozen Republicans have said they will oppose the nomination, and others indicate they are likely to. There was no statement of a formal plan to block the nomination through a use of the rules, like a filibuster. This is where the Administration is holding its breath, whether such an attempt might be made to block the President's choice.
Today, Hagel received welcome support. Mike Johanns (R-NE), current senior Senator and former governor of Nebraska, and former Secretary of Agriculture under George W Bush, has endorsed Hagel's nomination. With Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS), the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee, that makes two Republican Senators, with likely support from all 55 Democratic and Independent Senators. 60 makes the nomination filibuster-proof.
Nebraska's other senator, Deb Fischer (R), is on the committee which questioned Hagel, and her questions and follow-up suggest she is unlikely to vote for Hagel's nomination.
"After our meeting last week I still have concerns with your nomination. Many of my colleagues are concerned that you have changed your views and I share that concern, but I must admit that I am more worried that your views have not changed. From your meeting with me last week it was clear that you maintain the views that have led to so much scrutiny of your nomination. Despite these recent claims to the contrary, you continue to hold, I believe, extreme views far to the left even of this administration," said Fischer.
As Obama's Cabinet members depart to varying degrees of fanfare, the wait continues to see if the first Vietnam Veteran, and only Republican nominated for his second term, will get to serve.