Democrats in the Senate certainly expressed considerable skepticism and some opposition to the idea of Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense before Barack Obama made the nomination official. Yesterday, we saw some movement within Obama’s party to close ranks, but nothing significant except Barney Frank’s forgiveness for Hagel’s remarks about James Hormel in 1998 being “aggressively gay.” And that may be the extent to which Obama has succeeded in generating unity around a fait accompli, gauging from Sen. Ben Cardin’s (D-MD) appearance on CNN this morning. Cardin was less forgiving about the Hormel remark, and even less so about Hagel’s position on Iran, as he explained at length to Soledad O’Brien (via Weekly Standard and Washington Free Beacon):
In other words, Cardin wasn’t moved at all from his somewhat skeptical stance yesterday, before the appointment was made official. Cardin gives Hagel praise on a personal level, but clearly isn’t enthused about the prospect of voting to make him Secretary of Defense. Cardin tells O’Brien that Hagel is “not who I would prefer to see as Secretary of Defense,” and that Hagel will have to answer a number of questions before winning Cardin’s vote — pointedly, whether Hagel would follow orders if the US decided to use a military option against Iran. That’s a rather insulting question, but one that Hagel’s record on sanctions and foreign policy regarding Iran leaves open. Cardin also raises the question of Hagel’s insistence on negotiations with terrorist groups, without prompting from O’Brien, as open issues in his mind on Hagel’s qualifications.
O’Brien asks him toward the end whether Hagel will get confirmed. Cardin responds by saying that while Presidents should have the benefit of the doubt when it comes to appointments, Hagel’s nomination raises too many questions to know now whether he should be confirmed or not. That’s hardly a vote of confidence, and it may be a warning shot across the White House bow that they’d better have a Plan B in place.