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Bridget Johnson

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February 1, 2013 - 1:24 pm

White House press secretary Jay Carney brushed off Defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel’s poor performance before the Senate Armed Services Committee, saying the administration expects he’ll be confirmed regardless.

“By my estimates — and reading of press reports — there has been a net increase in the number of confirmed yes votes for Senator Hagel’s confirmation since the hearing ended,” Carney said today.

Those aren’t on the GOP side, though, where Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) is still the only confirmed Hagel supporter. Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.) confirmed today that they’ll be voting against confirmation.

With a 55-45 advantage in the Senate, Dems would need to poach five Republicans to stop a filibuster. And there’s still no guarantee they won’t have their own party defections: moderate Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) seems assured, but freshman Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) has been defecting from her party, notably on gun control. And there are still pro-Israel Dems who haven’t taken a position one way or another, such as Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.).

“In terms of the hearing itself, what struck me was the stridency of some of the questioning from Republican critics, his former colleagues, the focus on a war that this president ended over which we can all agree there is disagreement. The president fully supports Senator Hagel’s views on this. They were the president’s views. They were the views the president expressed when he ran for office in 2008 and won,” Carney said in a dig at Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

“What I can tell you is that the president believes that Senator Hagel will make an excellent secretary of defense and that he will be confirmed. And he looks forward to working with Senator Hagel in that position, as we continue to advance our national security priorities.”

Carney brushed off a question about whether the White House may alter it’s strategy, simply saying “we anticipate and hope that the Senate will act quickly to confirm him and put him in place at the Pentagon.”

“I think Senator Hagel answered the questions appropriately and did a fine job. Part of the — I mean, if you look — if you take — take all the news clips, not the whole performance, but the news clips that have dominated television reporting on this, they have focused on a series of exchanges that, I think, by any estimation largely represent badgering by questioners over issues like what was — you know, why did you disagree with my over Iraq,” he said.

“And while the process is important and it’s a — it’s a vital function of our democracy, the confirmation process, I would be stunned if, in the end, Republican senators chose to try to block the nomination of a decorated war veteran who was once among their colleagues in the Senate as a Republican.”

When asked again if Hagel’s answers were “appropriate and fine, on the mark,” Carney accused reporters of trying to “play a gotcha game.”

“I know you want to write that down. I’m saying that — that if you want to ask me a specific question about Iran, I can — or a specific answer he gave, I can — I can certainly answer that. But the senator answered questions for something like, I don’t know, hours yesterday, seven hours, five and a half hours?” Carney said.

A reporter corrected the press secretary — Hagel was questioned for eight hours.

“Eight hours. Thank you. And, I think, conducted himself appropriately and well. And the president looks forward to his confirmation as secretary of defense,” Carney said.

Bridget Johnson is a veteran journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She is an NPR contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.
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