Former senators seeking senate confirmations expect to be grilled by members of their opposing party. But for former Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, the grill masters were fellow Republicans.
Hagel is up for confirmation as President Obama’s new Secretary of Defense, but on Thursday, he faced tough questioning from a coalition of Republican senators on the Senate Armed Services Committee. The charge, led by freshman Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Arizona’s John McCain, attempted to tie Hagel to anti-Israel, anti-nuke and even anti-American positions. The committee attacked him for everything for perceived leniency on Iran sanctions to possibly agreeing with an anti-Israeli caller on a talk show he attended.
From the fiery treatment, it would be hard to tell that Hagel once served two terms as a Republican senator from Nebraska. The problem lies in Hagel’s brand of centrism, a concept becoming foreign to an increasingly polarized legislature – and country. Although Hagel has a predominantly conservative voting record, he was a harsh critic of the Bush administration in its later years, in particular the Iraq War. A strong refusal to support the Iraqi troop surge lost him several Republican friends, such as John McCain, whose 2008 presidential bid lacked a Hagel endorsement.
If Hagel is such a divisive figure for the Republican Party, then why are Obama and his Democratic counterparts sticking with him? It’s simple: the “R” in parentheses after his name. With the resignation of Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood, Obama’s cabinet now lacks any Republican voices. Especially after an incredibly polarizing inaugural speech, Obama needs to at least show an aura of bipartisanship, and a Republican Secretary of Defense would definitely help on that front.
Hagel needs 60 votes to overcome an almost certain Republican filibuster. Can he garner at least 5 votes from the party he used to serve? We will soon find out.