At least seven Republicans have openly declared their opposition to Hagel and a handful of others have stepped up to the line, including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who indicated he is considering waging a filibuster against the nomination unless Panetta appears before Armed Services to testify about the recent incident in Benghazi, Libya, that led to the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others.
If all 53 Democrats plus two Independents who caucus with the Democrats wind up supporting Hagel, they will need to pick up five GOP votes to break any potential filibuster.
Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), another leading voice opposed to the nomination, noted that Panetta won a unanimous confirmation vote in the upper chamber and insisted that Obama “would be wise to nominate someone else for this critical position.”
“Sen. Hagel’s record of opposing Iran sanctions is troubling,” Wicker said. “His views and positions on the Middle East and Israel are contrary to the administration’s own stated policies and there are concerns from members of both parties about this nomination.”
Hagel, who has been busy meeting members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, actually has won over Democrats who initially reacted tepidly to the nomination, including Sen. Chuck Schumer, of New York, who was concerned about Hagel’s views on Israel and his reference at one time to “the Jewish lobby.”
Schumer said he received assurances from Hagel that allowed him to support the nomination.
“Sen. Hagel clarified a number of his past statements and positions and elaborated on several others,” Schumer said, adding that Hagel “realizes the situation in the Middle East has changed, with Israel in a dramatically more endangered position than it was even five years ago. His views are genuine, and reflect this new reality.”
A key player may prove to be Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and onetime Hagel ally and friend. The two were so close that Hagel served as national co-chairman of McCain’s unsuccessful presidential campaign in 2000.
The two have since had a falling out, reportedly over the war in Iraq – Hagel became a critic while McCain remained a strong proponent and urged a surge in U.S. troop strength.
McCain initially said he had “serious concerns about positions Sen. Hagel has taken on a range of critical national security issues in recent years,” but he has yet to declare his intentions. The two met privately last week resulting in what McCain described on ABC’s This Week last Sunday as “a very good conversation.” But he also said he was not completely satisfied with Hagel’s presentation.
“We had a very good conversation,” McCain said. “We’ve been friends for many years, so we’ll see what happens in the hearing.”