Does Schumer hold the key to Hagel?

If so, then the White House has reason to worry.  Politico’s Manu Raju and Maggie Haberman report that Chuck Schumer remains deeply skeptical about Chuck Hagel’s attitude toward Israel and American security policy in the Middle East, and that he’s also making that clear to his colleagues.  Schumer’s influence in the Senate, especially on policy relating to Israel, would be enough to torpedo Hagel’s confirmation:

Chuck Schumer is quietly letting out the word: He’s far from sold that Chuck Hagel will be a staunch advocate of Israel.

And it’s his vote that counts.

Schumer, the most powerful Jewish Democrat in Congress, has been noncommittal in his public statements on Hagel’s nomination. But privately, several sources say he has told senators it would be “very hard” for him to support Hagel as the next defense secretary because of his positions on Israel over the years. In New York, Schumer has told allies and power brokers in the Jewish community that he’s uneasy about Hagel’s nomination, a concern he reiterated at a private breakfast in Manhattan’s posh Park Avenue Winter restaurant on Wednesday.

If Schumer were to oppose Hagel, it would almost certainly amount to a fatal blow to his candidacy since a number of pro-Israel Democrats who are squeamish about the nominee could very well be influenced by the No. 3 Democrat’s position. It would also give bipartisan political cover to Republicans and neocons fighting Hagel’s nomination.

Hagel has already started making the rounds on Capitol Hill, launching a charm offensive to counter the impression that his own remarks and votes have left on the issues of Israel, Iran, and terrorism.  “Charm” and “Hagel” have been hardly compatible concepts during his Senate tenure, which is one of the problems he’ll face in building support for his confirmation.  He picked up some support from Dennis Ross yesterday, however:

“He feels that who he is, what he stands for and what his attitudes are have been misrepresented and distorted,” said Dennis Ross, a former top Obama Middle East adviser.

“What he said to me very clearly was that … he deeply believes that Iran does need to be prevented from having the bomb and that he doesn’t believe in containment.”

The Jerusalem Post reports from “a US official” that Hagel is arguing that his statements and votes have been misunderstood:

One US official who is familiar with the information Hagel is providing to members of the Senate defended Hagel’s approach to the militant groups Hezbollah and Hamas. As a senator, Hagel decided not to join 88 other senators in a 2006 letter calling on the European Union to designate Lebanon-based Hezbollah a terrorist organization.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Hagel believes it is not appropriate for members of Congress to write foreign leaders and that they should write the president, instead. More important, the official said, was Hagel’s voting record.

“There were a number of pieces of legislation that actually called on Hezbollah to be a terrorist organization that he supported and voted for,” the official said.

On Hamas, the official said Hagel also felt his position was being misrepresented. Despite claims to the contrary by critics, Hagel does not support direct, unconditional engagement with Hamas and agrees it must first renounce violence, he said.

It would be easy to test the no-signature argument. Did Hagel ever sign anything similar on other issues?  I don’t have any idea, but it probably wouldn’t be difficult to find out.

On the other hand, Hagel also refused to put his vote on the March 2007 Iran Counter Proliferation Act, voted against designating the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization in September of the same year (while 76 other Senators voted in favor), and was one of only two votes on the Banking Committee in opposition to sanctions on countries that did business with Iran the following year.  None of those involve talking to foreign powers and retaining the modesty of the Senate, and all of those put Hagel very much on the fringe of US policy toward Iran.

That’s really the bigger issue, much more so than whether Hagel is warm, lukewarm, or cold to Israel.  Why has Obama selected a Secretary of Defense who has been so far out of the mainstream on one of the key threats to US interests, even as Obama has so far defined it?  I suspect that is the question that Schumer wants answered — and the answer isn’t likely to please him.

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