We all have bad days. For Sen. Chuck Hagel, Thursday was a really bad day. While I wasn’t able to watch the whole hearing, it seemed that Hagel was suffering a schizophrenic split by supporting, and then backtracking, on policy positions. The Washington Free Beacon compiled a litany of poor responses he gave to the Senate Armed Services Committee. From calling Iran’s government “legitimate” to prevaricating on the Iraq Surge, it’s no wonder why senators were “shocked” at how “ill-prepared” Mr. Hagel was at the hearings. Furthermore, these were questions that everyone knew were going to be asked of him when this day arrived.
Politico reported that his explanation of using the term “Jewish lobby” was overly loquacious, and that had little to say about his quote concerning Israel keeping Palestinians “caged up like animals.”
“If I had an opportunity to edit that, like many things I’ve said, I would like to go back and change the words and the meaning… I regret having used those words,” Hagel said.
And in the first conciliatory note of what has been a tough hearing for Hagel, West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin — who has endorsed Hagel — conceded senators have “been a little bit rough on him, just a little bit rough,” Manchin said.
“I feel like I want to apologize for some of the tone and demeanor today,” Manchin said.
Manchin might have been referring to a tense exchange this morning when McCain, a defense hawk and outspoken supporter of the Iraq war, grew irate when Hagel wouldn’t say whether he believed the 2007 troop surge in Iraq helped stabilize that country.
“You’re holding up well,” added Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.).
McCain demanded that Hagel answer the question, which the nominee refused to do.
“Are you going to answer the question?” McCain said, cutting off Hagel. “Let the record show that you refused to answer the question.”
“I’m not going to give you a yes or no,” said Hagel. “I’ll defer that judgement to history.”
“History has already made a judgement on the surge, and you’re on the wrong side of it,” McCain said later, warning he might oppose Hagel because of his refusal to give him a direct response.
Elizabeth Harrington of CNS News reported how Sen. Lindsay Graham pressed Hagel on his comments about the so-called “Jewish lobby,” and their detrimental effects on American foreign policy.
“Let’s talk a little bit about statements you’ve made. You’ve explained this a bit, you said the ‘Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here. … I’m not an Israeli senator. I’m a United States senator. … This pressure makes us do dumb things at times.’ You said the Jewish lobby should not have been—that term should not have been used, it should have been some other term.”
Graham continued, “Name one person, in your opinion, who’s intimidated by the Israeli lobby in the United States Senate?”
“Well, first — ” Hagel said.
“Name one,” Graham said.
“I don’t know,” Hagel said.
“Well, why would you say it?” Graham asked.
“I didn’t have in mind a specific person,” Hagel said.
“Do you agree it’s a provocative statement?” said Graham. “That I can’t think of a more provocative thing to say about the relationship between the United States and Israel and the Senate or the Congress than what you said.“ “Name one dumb thing we’ve been goaded into doing because of the pressure from the Israeli or Jewish lobby?” said Graham. Hagel replied, “I have already stated that I regret the terminology—”
“But you said back then it makes us do dumb things,” Graham said. “You can’t name one senator intimidated. Now give me one example of the dumb things that we’re pressured to do up here.”
“We were talking in that interview about the Middle East, about positions, about Israel,” Hagel said. Graham interjected., “So give me an example of where we’ve been intimidated by the Israeli Jewish lobby to do something dumb, regarding the Mid-East, Israel, or anywhere else.” “Well, I can’t give you an example,” Hagel said. “Thank you,” Graham said. “Do you agree with me you shouldn’t have said something like that?” “Yes, I do,” Hagel said. “I’ve already said that.”
Alas, we know why National Review’s Andrew Stiles said we should “expect fireworks” at these hearings. Joel Gehrke at the Washington Examiner noted how Hagel said that he doesn’t “know enough” about our military, but vowed to study up on these areas if confirmed to the post.
A number of questions were asked of me today about specific programs, submarine programs, different areas of technology and acquisitions, and our superior technology,” Hagel said during his confirmation hearing. “I’ve said I do not know enough about it. I don’t. There are a lot of things I don’t know about. If confirmed, I intend to know a lot more than I do.”
[T]here are by my count as of now about 35 no votes. The majority of the remainder are tentatively leaning against Hagel, but a couple are at this point likely to support him. That is before the hearing, and that is why it remains an important event. Democrats have already sold their souls on this one, but Republicans will be looking at the hearing and asking the advice of their colleagues on the committee. Are his confirmation conversions a farce? Is he going to be able to propound the president’s stated policies and have credibility with friends and foes, especially in the Middle East? Is his just another sign of the president’s in-your-face approach to Congress and his second term? Does he have the temperament and executive ability for this enormous job?
At this juncture a really bad performance by Hagel might shake loose a few contentious Democrats. That is, I will grant you, not the most probable outcome.
Did Hagel pass a note to his aide, “In five minutes, pull the fire alarm.”
— Jonah Goldberg (@JonahNRO) January 31, 2013
Hagel soon: I forgot to turn off my stove. I’ve got to run.
— Jonah Goldberg (@JonahNRO) January 31, 2013