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“I cannot support a nominee for defense secretary who suggests we should be tougher on Israel and more lenient on Iran,” Cornyn said.
Hagel has walked back many of these positions and apologized for the “Jewish lobby” remark. But Cornyn said he believed they were part of what he called a “confirmation conversion.”
In his efforts to tamp down the pro-Israel opposition to his nomination, Hagel has won support from some of the leading Jewish pro-Israel Democrats in the Senate: Carl Levin (D-Mich.), who chairs the Armed Services Committee, as well as Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.).
The Vietnam War hero also has the support of liberal Jewish groups, including Americans for Peace Now, the Israel Policy Forum and J Street. On Wednesday, J Street was set to join Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), a veteran and a member of the Armed Services Committee, on a conference call backing Hagel.
Hagel also has met with leaders of centrist pro-Israel groups, several of which had expressed concerns about his candidacy, including the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. The groups described the meeting as “an important opportunity for a serious and thorough discussion.”
Democrats control 55 of the Senate’s 100 seats and sources close to Hagel have said he is hoping that his longstanding friendships with some Senate Republicans will be enough to get the 60 votes necessary to avoid a filibuster.
Meanwhile, conservative Jewish groups have worked to keep up the pressure.
Last week, the Republican Jewish Coalition posted a web video featuring Democrats and Jewish organizational leaders expressing concern about Hagel. The Emergency Committee for Israel similarly ran a full-page ad in the New York Times on Jan. 15. The Zionist Organization of America is lobbying Senate offices.
Sheldon Adelson, one of the GOP’s most generous donors and an RJC board member, has called senators directly to make the case against Hagel.
“We’ve made a strategic decision to gin up as much support among our leaders to reach out to the folks,” said Matt Brooks, the RJC’s executive director.