Chuck Hagel's Chances of Confirmation Improve

Campaign To Block Pentagon Pick Loses Steam

By Reuters

Published January 15, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel appears increasingly likely to be confirmed as U.S. defense secretary, thanks to support from two key senators and the lack of an overt campaign against him by mainstream pro-Israel groups.

Hagel, whose comments on Israel, Iran and gay rights have sparked opposition to his candidacy, on Tuesday won the backing of Senator Charles Schumer, the Senate’s No. 3 Democrat, who had been conspicuously on the fence. Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, also weighed in with support.

Schumer’s support was seen as pivotal given his record as a strong supporter of Israel. Both he and Boxer are Jewish.

Neoconservative activists have vociferously attacked Hagel, a decorated Vietnam veteran, over past statements questioning the wisdom of using military force to stop Iran’s nuclear program and complaining about what he called the intimidating influence of the “Jewish lobby” in Washington.

Larger, more mainstream organizations have not mounted a concerted public effort to derail Hagel’s nomination to replace Leon Panetta as President Barack Obama’s Pentagon chief.

Kenneth Bandler, a spokesman for the American Jewish Committee, said his group was “in the concerned camp, not the opposition camp” and would decide whether to oppose or support the nomination depending upon what emerges during the Senate confirmation process.

That process is likely to be messy. Mississippi Republican Roger Wicker, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which will hold confirmation hearings, issued a tweet calling him “a divisive and disastrous nominee.”

But those views are unlikely to gain more traction, aides say, unless Hagel mishandles his confirmation hearing or additional controversial statements from the past emerge.

“I’ve had a few conversations with Republicans on the Hill who admittedly don’t like Hagel for his ‘malleability,’” said one well-connected former Republican congressional and Bush administration aide.

Hagel will get “raked over the coals” for some of his statements on Israel and Iran and grilled on his willingness to send troops into battle, the aide said. “But in the end he will be confirmed,” the former official said.

Democratic officials offered a similar assessment.

One close to the Armed Services Committee said, “There is no groundswell on Capitol Hill” against Hagel. “Have I seen anything that looks truly disqualifying? No.”

Hagel will garner votes from all 53 Senate Democrats and between 10 and 15 Republicans, predicted one observer who has been counting votes. Should Hagel’s nomination come to a vote in the full Senate, he would need a simple majority of its 100 members to win confirmation.


One of the principal groups lobbying against Hagel is the Emergency Committee for Israel, fronted by two prominent conservative figures, Bill Kristol and Gary Bauer. Hagel broke with conservative Republican foreign policy thinking and became a critic of President George W. Bush’s policies, particularly his handling of the Iraq war.

In mid-December, before it became clear that Hagel was Obama’s favorite for the defense post, the group produced a 30-second TV spot aired on Washington cable systems that criticized Hagel’s views on Iran.

The group paid for a full-page ad that ran on Tuesday in The New York Times, calling Hagel an “anti-Israel nominee” and pointing readers to its anti-Hagel website,

Representatives of the group, including Michael Goldfarb, who is listed as the committee’s treasurer, did not respond to multiple emails and phone messages over several days requesting comment on the group and its funding.

Other broadsides against Hagel have come from the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay rights group that launched a newspaper ad campaign attacking Hagel’s record on gay rights issues. In the 1990s, Hagel disparaged a nominee for U.S. ambassador as “openly, aggressively gay,” remarks he has since apologized for.

But along with the American Jewish Committee, two other major pro-Israel groups say that, for now, they are not directly opposing Hagel’s nomination.

Marshall Wittmann, a spokesman for the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, widely regarded as the most powerful pro-Israel political group in Washington, said by email, “AIPAC does not take positions on presidential nominations.”

When rumors about a possible Hagel nomination first surfaced last month, Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, which campaigns against anti-Semitism and supports Israel, was quoted as describing the 2006 Hagel comment about the “Jewish lobby” as “pretty disturbing language which … borders onto conspiratorial.”

On Friday, Foxman told Reuters that these and other issues related to Hagel, including his views on Iran, still concern him and need explanation. But he said he had never said that he or the ADL were going to fight the nomination. “He can assuage us, convince us … and we move on.”

Well-financed and media-savvy lobbyists close to the White House and Obama’s re-election campaign have launched their own campaign to support Hagel’s confirmation and neutralize opposition forces.

Before Hagel was nominated, the Podesta Group, a Washington lobbying firm headed by the brother of John Podesta, the head of Obama’s first-term transition team, helped a coterie of former top government officials who call themselves the Bipartisan Group get a wider audience for a letter urging Obama to choose him.

A spokesman for Bill Benter, a major donor to liberal causes whose website touts his prowess as a professional gambler, confirmed Benter was helping to pay for advertising promoting the Bipartisan Group’s message.

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight":
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.