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Londono reports: "Chuck Hagel, President Obama's nominee as defense secretary, confronted withering criticism during a marathon confirmation hearing Thursday, but administration officials said they felt confident that the Republican-led attacks did not derail his bid to lead the Pentagon."

Republican Chuck Hagel, President Obama's choice for defense secretary, testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, January 31, 2013. (Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
Republican Chuck Hagel, President Obama's choice for defense secretary, testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, January 31, 2013. (Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Republican-Led Criticism of Hagel Does Not Appear to Shift Votes

By Ernesto Londono, The Washington Post

01 February 13



awmakers from both parties spent roughly eight hours grilling Hagel about remarks he has made at various points of his career and the votes he had cast in the Senate. The nominee at times struggled as he sought to explain his past positions, in some cases distancing himself from them. He nonetheless offered a full-throated endorsement of the United States' alliance with Israel, insisted that he has never advocated for unilateral nuclear disarmament and called Iran an existential threat.

An administration official said the combative nature of the hearing did not come as a surprise for a nominee who has faced more sustained and personal opposition than any of Obama's Cabinet picks.

"There's no indication that this is peeling off any support that was there before today," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the administration's internal assessment of the hearing.

The ranking Republican senator on the Armed Services Committee set the tone for the confirmation hearing for Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska with a reputation for bluntness but also nuanced foreign policy views.

"Why do you think that the Iranian Foreign Ministry so strongly supports your nomination to be the secretary of defense?" Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) asked Hagel, in an apparent reference to an Iranian news agency report conveying hope from the Islamic republic that Hagel's confirmation would bring "practical changes" in U.S. policy.

Hagel appeared defensive, frustrated and lethargic during much of the hearing. But none of the zingers or missteps appeared serious enough to sway a significant number of senators to vote across party lines. Democrats outnumber Republicans on the committee 14 to 12, and administration officials and analysts said the vote would probably fall along party lines.

"None of the votes that probably would have been for him have shifted," said Steve Clemons, a fellow at the New America Foundation who supports Hagel's nomination. But he expressed surprise by the lack of charisma the seasoned politician displayed on the witness chair. "Hagel, who can be hilarious, didn't show much of that today," Clemons lamented.

Hagel's nomination has triggered sustained criticism since his name was first suggested for the job in December. Previous remarks and votes on issues ranging from sanctions against Iran to the propriety of having an openly gay ambassador became fodder for a barrage of ads and an intense lobbying campaign that has sought to doom his nomination.

During his opening statement, Hagel defended his record, saying he always acted with integrity but acknowledging that it was not devoid of "mistakes." If he is confirmed, Hagel said, he would run the Pentagon guided by a long-held philosophy: "Is our policy worthy of our troops and their families and the sacrifices that we ask them to make?"

One of the first bruising lines of questioning came early, when Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) asked Hagel whether he regretted his opposition to the 2007 troop surge in Iraq.

"Were you right?" McCain asked sternly, eliciting a response that he seemed to find inadequate.

"I would defer to the judgment of history to sort that out," Hagel said, refusing repeatedly to provide a yes-or-no answer.

Hagel later said that the Iraq war, including the surge, was the "most fundamentally bad, dangerous decision since Vietnam."

Hagel faced relatively few nuanced questions about the Afghan war or terrorist threats. Afghanistan was mentioned just 27 times, and al-Qaeda only twice, while Israel got 178 mentions and Iran 169.

On Afghanistan, where 66,000 U.S. troops remain deployed, Hagel said he did not have enough knowledge about the war to have an informed opinion about the ideal size for the force the United States might leave behind after its combat mandate expires at the end of 2014. He agreed with a senator's characterization that Obama intends to draw down troops "sooner rather than later."

"I think he's made that very clear," Hagel said. "If I am confirmed, I will need to better understand all the dimensions of this."

Senators spent a great deal of time pressing Hagel on his views on Iran, demanding to know why he has in the past rejected unilateral sanctions and why he refused to endorse an effort to designate the Iran's Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization.

The question elicited one of Hagel's most damaging missteps, as he argued that it would have been unprecedented to add a military unit of an "elected, legitimate government" as a terrorist organization. Senators took exception to that characterization, which Hagel later softened. On the broader question of the best approach to reducing the threat Iran poses, the nominee defended some of his past positions.

"I think it's always wise to try to talk to people before you get into war," he said. He later added: "I never thought engagement is weakness."

Hagel was also challenged about a comment he made in a newspaper interview in August 2011, in which he was quoted as saying that the Pentagon's budget was bloated. On Thursday, he said he had made the comment before Congress passed a bill that imposed substantial defense cuts. The interview was, in fact, conducted after the bill's passage.

The nominee said he would run the Pentagon in a fiscally responsible manner and rejected the claim that he favors the congressionally mandated across-the-board cuts that could kick in March 1 if the White House and Congress fail to reach a deal on debt reduction.

Hagel struggled when Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-N.C.) asked him to expand on his past assertion that the Israeli lobby "intimidates a lot of people" and challenged him to point to a single senator who feels intimidated.

"Name one," Graham said, eliciting a meek response from Hagel, who said: "I do not know."

Later in the hearing, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) showed footage of interviews Hagel gave to the Qatar-based al-Jazeera television network that appeared to depict him as being sympathetic with viewers who said that Israel had committed war crimes and that the United States was the "world's bully." Hagel on Thursday sought to distance himself from both notions.

"I think my comment was it's a relevant and good observation," Hagel replied. "I don't think I said I agree with it."

Scott Wilson and Rajiv Chandrasekaran contributed to this report. your social media marketing partner


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-3 # HowardMH 2013-02-01 13:11
Hagel got mauled because he didn't have the spine to stand up for what he said and has already apologized for and throw it right back in their faces. Make them look stupid for even bringing it up. His knowledge of many of the basic facts were very limited and he seamed very timid.
Does he really have what it takes to lead?
+8 # Billsy 2013-02-01 13:19
It sickens me that many of the chicken hawks attacking former decorated service men like Hagel get away with branding him and Sen. Kerry with charges of cowardice or mendacity while they themselves avoided service altogether. The fact that the media and ignorant republican constituents let them get away with this speaks very poorly for the moral condition of our nation. Time for decorated veterans (you get purple hearts for wounds in battle btw) to call them out for the cowards and war mongers they truly are. Outing LIndsey Graham would be a good start.
+4 # X Dane 2013-02-01 16:13
It didn't just sicken me,.....It infuriated me, to see the way those turkeys were BADGERING Hagel. Just a couple of the republicans QUESTIONED him the rest were downright ATTACKING him NON stop. It was an inquisition, McCain looked UGLY and he probably would have like to burn Hagel at the stake too.

Unfortunately Hagel was not clear enough in his answers, and maybe not prepped well enough either. Still I think he will be confirmed, and I still feel he will be good in the position.
+5 # giraffee2012 2013-02-01 13:27
Hagel not only has what it takes - he is heads above anyone else for the job. The Bagger-led-GOP' s interrogation was pathetic and off target so nobody could answer.

HowardMH - you must be tuned into FAUX-gate's review of the interrogation and that shows your ignorance of history and facts.

Why does the GOPbaggers attract ignorant uninformed people?

Glad to hear the vote still stands for Hagel.
+2 # Rita Walpole Ague 2013-02-01 13:55
It is a possibility that Hagel is, simply put, not putting his head on the chopping block of the villainaire rulers and their politician clown minions.

Think we'd be wise, critical thinkers/doers if we listened less to what is being said. MSD, (manipulation, spin, distraction) is done best by pols. and their appointees by their persuasively talking the talk, vs. smartly (constantly looking out for truth teller and truth seeking, people serving quashers) walking the walk.

Let's get lots less naive, and keep careful tabs on what actually gets done to UNDO THE COUP vs. what merely is said is gonna be done.

+1 # humanmancalvin 2013-02-02 07:10
The rights partisan, mean spirited, faux enraged, style of witch hunting has not changed a bit in President Obama 2nd term. Foolish me, I thought for a second or 2 that maybe the radical right insurgency AKA the Tea Baggers would step back into reality & try to pretend they cared about the American public/voter just long enough anyway to try to take the White House back in 2016. Nope. I do believe now that they have already ceded the drive to the WH after their blatantly political attack on Hillary Clinton gained less traction than a bald tire. Why bother to pretend they care for the country when they will be serving under the Communist, Socialist, Hitler clone President Clinton? It will be fun, fun, when President Clintons 1st Gentleman Bill goes on the airwaves defending his wife, his president, when they begin the same foolishness on her that are now piling on Obama.
2014, time for a major change in the House. Bye bye Tea Baggers, hello sanity.

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