WASHINGTON – Former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel is expected to navigate a bumpy path through the Senate Armed Services Committee and ultimately emerge with a recommendation that he be confirmed as the nation’s next secretary of defense.
An aide in the office of Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin, of Illinois, confirmed a report that originally appeared in Roll Call maintaining that there is no indication that any of the panel’s Democrats intend to oppose President Obama’s choice to succeed retiring Secretary Leon Panetta at the Pentagon.
Since Democrats outnumber Republicans 14-12 on the committee, the nomination of the Vietnam War veteran from Nebraska is likely headed to the Senate floor for final confirmation barring circumstances like a filibuster.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, of Connecticut, is considered the likeliest Democrat to break from the party. He has acknowledged in interviews that while he respects the right of the president to select his cabinet he does not feel comfortable with some of the positions Hagel has staked out – primarily involving Iraq and Israel – and has refused to make a public commitment. But Blumenthal has said he ultimately expects Hagel to be confirmed.
Hagel, 66, scheduled for an appearance before the committee this morning, hasn’t picked up much support from his fellow Republicans. Thus far, Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) stands as the lone GOP lawmaker to acknowledge his endorsement. Meanwhile, a growing number on what once was Hagel’s side of the aisle have made their opposition clear.
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), the panel’s ranking member, declared that “we are simply too philosophically opposed on the issues for me to support his nomination.”
Inhofe cited several concerns, asserting that Hagel doesn’t appear sufficiently wary of looming defense cuts that “would be devastating to our military.”
He also noted that Hagel supports nuclear disarmament “at a time when North Korea is threatening our allies with their nuclear capabilities and Iran continues to pursue a nuclear weapon and the means to deliver it,” threatening national security.
“On Iran and Israel, Sen. Hagel’s record concerns me as well,” said Inhofe, who was one of three votes against the confirmation of John Kerry as secretary of State in the full Senate this week. “In 2000, he was one of just four senators who refused to sign a letter affirming U.S. solidarity with Israel. In 2001 he was one of just two senators who voted against extending the sanctions against Iran. A year later, he urged the Bush administration to support Iranian membership in the World Trade Organization. Given the current tension in the Middle East that is largely being instigated by the Iranian regime, I am concerned with Sen. Hagel’s views.”