Chuck Hagel has made strides in his bid to secure Senate confirmation as defense secretary, winning the endorsement of leading Jewish Democratic senators and meeting with the leaders of major American Jewish groups.
But conservative pro-Israel opposition remains fierce, bolstered by the pivotal role being played by Christians United For Israel, the Texas-based group founded by Pastor John Hagee.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the first senator to come out against Hagel’s nomination, did so at Hagee’s behest, both men revealed on Monday.
CUFI’s affiliated Action Fund also has rallied hundreds of Christian pastors and leaders to Washington this week to lobby against the former Nebraska senator’s bid to succeed Leon Panetta.
And on Tuesday, as the pastors were swarming Senate offices, CUFI published four ads in states where Democratic senators are thought to be vulnerable in 2014: Arkansas, Louisiana, Colorado and North Carolina.
“We pray you vote against confirming Senator Hagel,” said the ads, addressed to each state’s senators.
“These are states in which we believe our opposition to the Hagel nomination is deeply and widely held, and we believe that it is crucial that these senators be made aware of where so many of their constituents stand on this nomination,” David Brog, CUFI’s executive director, told JTA in an email.
At a gathering Monday for more than 400 Christian activists from 46 states who came to Washington for the anti-Hagel lobbying, Hagee revealed that he had asked Cornyn to oppose Hagel weeks before President Obama had made the nomination public.
“The next morning, Senator Cornyn called the Washington Post and made a courageous stand to oppose the Hagel nomination, which is detrimental both to America and Israel,” Hagee said.
The stated opposition of Cornyn, the minority whip, helped spur other Republicans to oppose Hagel, a Republican who served in the U.S. Senate from 1997 to 2008. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, has since said he is opposed, as have a number of other Republicans.
In his remarks Monday, Cornyn went over Hagel’s much-reported past remarks: describing a “Jewish lobby” that “intimidates” lawmakers; advocating direct outreach to groups like Hamas and Hezbollah; and expressing skepticism of unilateral sanctions on Iran and the use of a military strike to prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon.