Trial balloon to see how Senate Democrats react?
For what it’s worth, the reason a lot of outside sources are being given a heads up on Hagel is that the White House knows if Hagel is indeed the president’s choice, it’s going to be a real fight.
There are as many as 10 Democratic senators who could vote no, Capitol Hill sources say. But Hagel has some big backers besides the president who would become the key point people in getting Hagel over the finish line – Vice President Joe Biden and Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed, both of whom are huge proponents of Hagel.
Asked on MSNBC’s Morning Joe about the opposition to Hagel, Obama political adviser David Axelrod defended the former Republican Nebraska senator.
“It speaks to the larger problem that we’re talking about, which is, we have to get the point, where, first of all, independence is admired and not discouraged, and we can disagree on some things and still work together on others,” Axelrod said. “And the notion that we demonize people because of a position that they’ve taken and disqualify them on that basis is what’s destroying the ability to get things done in this town.”
When Chuck Schumer was asked last weekend whether he would support Hagel, he was conspicuously noncommittal. Barney Frank, who won’t get a vote — or will he? — said he’d oppose Hagel if given the chance. Anything’s possible, but there was a lot of noise this week about a critical mass of House Republicans preparing to block Boehner and that melted away in the heat of political reality. Are there really six Senate Democrats willing to join a united GOP caucus and kneecap a guy who just got reelected president by killing his first big nomination of the new term? O’s game here is to push Hagel through in the face of unanimous (or nearly unanimous) Republican opposition so that he can paint the GOP as so “extreme” that they’d oppose “one of their own” just to spite Obama. That’s not true, of course: Republican opposition to Hagel is much more about Hagel than it is about O (see John Cornyn’s comments here to see why), but anything O can do to further sour public opinion on the Republican Party will help him in other confrontations to come, like the debt ceiling. If Schumer and a handful of other Democrats vote no too, that talking point explodes and suddenly the narrative will be about Obama nominating someone who was too sketchy on Israel for both parties.
Over at the Standard, Bill Kristol argues that there’s no case for Hagel. Why, sure there is. The case for him is (a) he’s pals with Obama, (b) his nomination will give the left a bigger megaphone to grumble about the pro-Israel lobby (also known to Chuck Hagel as “the Jewish lobby”), and (c), as even some liberals admit, it’s a sweet opportunity to stick it to the neocons, never mind the fact that Hagel voted for the invasion of Iraq before transforming into a fierce Bush critic. As David Greenberg, who wrote the TNR piece at that last link, put it, Hagel supporters essentially view the confirmation hearings as a referendum on Hagel’s opponents rather than on Hagel himself. (Kristol comes to this conclusion too.) But maybe that makes this worth a gamble by O, even if Senate Democrats abandon him: It’s a way to remind the left of the anti-war cred that helped propel him to national stardom, before he became President Dronestrike H. Rendition. It flatters his base to believe that they’re principled, thoughtful opponents of aggressive U.S action abroad even though they’ve done zippo to rein in Obama. Nominating Hagel flatters them. If you’re O, why not do it and dare Senate Democrats to block you?
Exit question: I’ve noticed that most Hagel items on the site these past few weeks get a collective yawn from the readers. How come? Is it a simple matter of thinking that he can’t make things worse than they are, so who cares if he’s nominated? Or is the feeling that the criticisms of him, like his opposition to Iran sanctions, are overblown?