Presidents will nominate Senators to Cabinet positions in part to get an easy ride to confirmation, and soft treatment during confirmation hearings. If that’s what Barack Obama and Chuck Hagel expected, they got a rude awakening, almost literally, when John McCain took his turn at the hearing this morning. McCain ripped Hagel for opposing the 2007 surge in Iraq, and later for his opposition to Obama’s own surge in Afghanistan:
Lawmakers on Thursday demanded that secretary of defense nominee Chuck Hagel explain controversial remarks he has made and votes he cast during his Senate career, as the Nebraska Republican sought to defend his record at a confirmation hearing.
In a tense exchange, Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.) pressed Hagel on whether he stood by his opposition to the decision to surge U.S. troops into Iraq in 2007. Hagel, who once called the surge the “most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam,” resisted McCain’s repeated attempts to solicit a “yes” or “no” answer.
“I’m not going to give you a ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ I’ll defer that to the judgment of history,” said Hagel, arguing that his comments at the time were a reflection of his opposition to the war in Iraq and not just the surge. …
Hagel’s is likely to be among toughest confirmation hearings for the defense secretary job in recent years. His predecessor, Leon E. Panetta, sailed to confirmation in the summer of 2011, as he transitioned from the helm of the CIA. Panetta’s predecessor, Robert M. Gates, another former CIA chief, was unanimously confirmed by the Armed Services Committee in December 2006, replacing Donald H. Rumsfeld, who left the post as an unpopular secretary.
Hagel might have expected tough questions from James Inhofe, but probably not from McCain, who usually instigates bipartisan efforts in the upper chamber. McCain had Hagel so rattled that Hagel later returned to McCain’s challenge during Bill Nelson’s more sympathetic questioning.
Inhofe, however, did get his own shot at Hagel, asking why he thinks Iran has endorsed his nomination:
“Given that Iran, the people — I’m quoting right now from Iran — people of the Middle East, the Muslim region and North Africa, people of these regions hate America from the bottom of their heart,” said Inhofe. “It further said Israel is a cancerous tumor in the heart of the Islamic world. They further said Iran’s warriors are ready and willing to wipe Israel off the map. The question I’d like to ask you, and you can answer for the record if you’d like, why do you think the Iranian foreign ministry so strongly supports your nomination to be the Secretary of Defense?”
Hagel responded, “I have a difficult enough time with American politics, Senator. I have no idea, but thank you. And I’ll be glad to respond further for the record.”
That’s a pretty good non-response response. Hagel floundered with McCain, however, and on a question of core competency for the job. If Hagel got both surges so flat-out wrong, what does that say about his judgment as the man in charge of the nation’s defense? And what does that say about the man who nominated Hagel, too?
Update: Isn’t this a Gerald Fordesque “Poland is not under Soviet domination” moment?
Former senator Chuck Hagel defended his vote against designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist group, claiming it would have been unprecedented and potentially harmful to give that designation to a representative of a “legitimate” government.
The Islamist regime in Iran, Hagel said, was “an elected, legitimate government, whether we agree or not.”
The Iranian government is currently gearing up for elections by arresting “anti-revolutionary” journalists, and deciding whether or not to allow pro-reform candidates to participate, many of whom have been living under house arrest for years.
Yikes. Could this be going any worse for Hagel and Obama?