Topping off a week rife with White House entrances and exits, former Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., heads to the Senate Armed Services Committee this morning for his confirmation hearing to become President Obama's new defense secretary. But the former Republican senator is not expected to get the kind of friendly reception his former colleague, soon-to-be Secretary of State John Kerry, received earlier this week; Hagel, though widely expected to squeak through the confirmation process, may have to put up a fight.
His nomination, which Mr. Obama announced earlier this month, has been controversial from the get-go: Even before the decision was official, a handful of Republicans were threatening to pitch a fight over it, denouncing the former senator's positions on Israel and Iran and in some cases pledging immediately to vote against him. Outside advocacy groups were also swift to get involved, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on television ads aimed at torpedoing Hagel's chances.
"I will not support Chuck Hagel's nomination," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tex., a member of the Armed Services Committee, in a statement released prior to the official announcement. "His record and past statements, particularly with respect to rogue nations like Iran, are extremely concerning to me."
Of particular concern to Republicans and some Democrats was Hagel's past opposition of some sanctions for Iran; for his having taken stances on Hezbollah and Hamas that critics have decried as overly lenient; and for criticism of what he called "the Jewish lobby," which invoked the ire of pro-Israel advocates. Additionally, Hagel came out as a vocal critic of former President George W. Bush's policies in Iraq.
Democrats had their own, added gripes with the pick: In addition to being a Republican, Hagel was targeted for making anti-gay comments about an ambassadorial nominee in 1998, whose nomination he opposed for being "openly, aggressively gay." He also voted on multiple occasions to limit abortion access for American servicewomen abroad.
In the days since his nomination, Hagel has rushed to assuage Democrats' concerns, meeting one-on-one with various senators in pursuit of their support, and signaling his commitment to fall in line with Mr. Obama's ideologies.