Chuck Hagel, President Obama's controversial pick for Defense secretary, is going door to door in Congress to make the case for his confirmation, banking on the personal touch to secure support.
Over the last few weeks, the former Nebraska senator has visited members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, the panel that will review his nomination before it goes to the full Senate. Hagel appears before the committee on Jan. 31, and is expected to continue meeting with senators.
Some pro-Israel lawmakers have expressed concerns about Hagel's past statements on Iran and Israel and questioned his support for the Jewish state. Last week, he cleared a major hurdle by gaining the approval of Chuck Schumer of New York, the No. 3 Senate Democrat.
Last week, Hagel has met with several Democratic senators. Statements from the offices of those senators suggest the meetings went well, though some indicated they were still on the fence. Several of the Democrats said they were reassured by their discussions with him on Israel and Iran.
Republicans offered more mixed comments on their meetings with the former senator, who is a Republican but was known for breaking ranks with his party on issues such as Iraq. Last week, Hagel met with Sen. James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, who praised Hagel's service in Vietnam but said he differed with Hagel too much on policy to back his nomination.
“Unfortunately, as I told him during our meeting today, we are simply too philosophically opposed on the issues for me to support his nomination,” Inhofe said in a statement, citing Hagel’s record on North Korea, Israel, and Iran and concerns over upcoming defense cuts.
Other Republicans on the committee, including Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Roger Wicker of Mississippi, and David Vitter of Louisiana, have already spoken out against Hagel’s nomination.
Here is a look at some reactions from Democratic senators who met with Hagel last week (he also met with Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.):
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire: “I was pleased with his strong, unwavering support of Israel, his steadfast opposition to Iran’s nuclear weapons program and his commitment to building relationships with our allies including NATO.… Senator Hagel is a strong, independent leader that is uniquely qualified to serve as our next Secretary of Defense, and I think that is evidenced by the amount of bipartisan support he has received in recent weeks.”
Sen. Christopher Coons of Delaware: “My meeting with Senator Hagel this afternoon was thorough and constructive, and addressed my concerns over his past comments. I was encouraged by his strong commitments to Israel's security, to keeping all options open in preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons capability, and to embracing tolerance and inclusion both in our society and our military…. I believe Senator Hagel will be a strong and effective secretary of defense, and I will be proud to vote for his confirmation.”
Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey: “He will have my support for Defense Secretary when the Senate votes on his nomination in the coming weeks. As we discussed in our meeting today, my colleagues and I will be watching his actions closely to ensure that issues of concern do not emerge as he takes on this critical position.”
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York: “As a member of the Committee, I will reserve final judgment until the hearing process is complete and Senator Hagel has provided his full testimony. However, based on our two personal conversations, I believe that Senator Hagel will faithfully and aggressively carry out the policies of the Obama administration, wants to be held accountable in working with me and my colleagues in implementing those policies in the future, and is well qualified to become the next Secretary of Defense.”
Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia: “Based on that conversation, I intend to support Chuck Hagel’s nomination. Chuck is a combat veteran and foot soldier who has a unique understanding of the challenges faced by our men and women in uniform, and a practical leader who understands the need for common sense in military spending and national security strategy.”
Sen. Angus King, I-Maine*: “I was impressed by Senator Hagel’s answers and left the meeting feeling reassured about the strength of his credentials and the positions he holds. That said, I look forward to the Senator’s impending testimony before the Armed Services Committee later this month and will reserve final judgment until those hearings conclude.”
Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri: “Senator Hagel answered some tough questions on where we’re going to find savings for taxpayers in the Pentagon budget while maintaining the superiority of our armed forces. He’s got an excellent resume as a combat veteran and a strong understanding of the issues critical to protecting our national security interests, and I look forward to hearing his testimony in front of the full committee next week.”
Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina: “I continue to review Senator Hagel's record and closely examine his views on the future of our military.… I have some concerns about comments he has made about one of our most important allies, Israel, and stances he has taken on Iran sanctions, and believe those will need to be examined in further detail. I hope that these questions and others can be answered during his nomination hearing.”
*Sen. Angus King, who is independent, said in November that he would caucus with Senate Democrats.