Former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) delivered a shaky performance at his confirmation hearing to lead the Pentagon while enduring a difficult day of grilling by his former Republican colleagues.
Hagel stumbled over some answers — describing Iran as having a “legitimate, elected government” at one point — and did little to convert critics who have deemed him unfit to serve as Defense secretary because of his past statements and positions.
Conservative groups jumped on several of his answers by releasing videos critical of his comments on Iran and his statement supporting President Obama’s policy of “containment.” Hagel later had to clarify both of those statements.
GOP senators showed up for a fight, ripping the former senator’s past statements, including his comment that the “Jewish lobby” intimidated people in Washington.
Hagel was frequently forced during a hearing that ran on for more than eight hours to say that he “regretted” his past statements, such as when Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) brought up Hagel’s statement that Israel kept 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,” Hagel said. “I regret that I used those words.”
The Republican National Committee touted a clip of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) pressing Hagel to name one lawmaker that was intimidated by the “Jewish lobby.”
“Name one,” Graham said.
“I do not know,” Hagel responded.
Graham said after the hearing that was “shocked” that Hagel didn’t have responses to many of the questions coming from the GOP.
“I’m very reluctant to confirm somebody who I think is saying one thing one moment and something else [the next],” Graham said. “This is a pretty clear case of confirmation conversion.”
Hagel might have cost himself a few Republican votes with his performance, though he also didn't seem to lose any Democratic supporters. Two more Republicans said Thursday they were opposed to Hagel, as did House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), who does not have a vote on his confirmation.
Since Democrats hold 55 seats in the Senate, that likely means only a GOP filibuster would prevent Hagel’s confirmation.
Graham said after questioning Hagel that he still wasn’t ready to take that step. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also declined to comment on a potential filibuster on Tuesday.
Levin said the confirmation vote in the Armed Services Committee could come as soon as Thursday, though that was still tentative. He did not have a timeline for the full Senate.
“I thought he did very well,” Levin said after the hearing concluded. I thought he was responvive. I thought he kept his cool.”
Hagel’s most heated exchange of the day came with a former friend and fellow Vietnam War veteran — Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who pushed Hagel to admit he was wrong about the 2007 Iraq surge, which Hagel had predicted would be a blunder.
Hagel said that he would “defer to the judgment of history,” but McCain said that wasn’t good enough. “It’s direct question — I expect a direct answer,” McCain said.
“I’m not going to give you a yes or no, I think it’s far more complicated than that,” Hagel responded.
“Let the record to show he refused to answer that question,” McCain said, adding that it might negatively affect his ultimate vote on Hagel’s confirmation.
“I think history has already made a judgment about the surge, sir, and you're on the wrong side of it,” McCain told Hagel.
I thought he looked and sounded like he just woke up.
And THAT's where the compliments end.
On Good Morning Show on CBS this morning, Charlie Rose had Bob Schieffer on and they all were discussing Hagel's very poor showing at the hearings yesterday and they were very discouraged with him. They felt he had not prepared and could not understand as the questions he was to be asked had not only been given to him ahead of time but had been published as well. Further, they do not think he will pass the Senate nor be approved as they don't think that Obama can get enough Democrats to support his confirmation.
They then talked about John McCain and Hagel's long time feud and they were actually rather nice to McCain and stated that it was not a personal dislike but a problem that centered around Hagel's policies and how they differ from McCain's.
And as good as it was to hear this, I had to wonder if Hagel were a Democrat if they would have been as critical. Regardless, I do hope that the Senate is smarter today and do not approve Hagel's appointment.