Hagel to meet Schumer to discuss Iran, Israel

Former Sen. Chuck HagelChuck HagelThere's still time for another third-party option Hagel says NATO deployment could spark a new Cold War with Russia Overnight Defense: House panel unveils 5B defense spending bill MORE (R-Neb.), President Obama’s pick for Defense secretary, will hold a key meeting today with Democratic Sen. Charles SchumerCharles SchumerThe Trail 2016: Unity at last This week: Congress eyes the exits in dash to recess Former Gillibrand aide wins NY House primary MORE (D-N.Y.), a source working on Hagel's nomination confirmed to The Hill.

In the meeting, Schumer, a strong supporter of Israel in Congress, will press Hagel to explain his views toward the U.S. ally and Iran, according to a report in The New York Times.

ADVERTISEMENT
The meeting is shaping up to be a key test of Hagel’s support ahead of what will be a contentious confirmation. Schumer has told aides he could back Hagel, depending on their talks, the report says. Schumer’s support could sway other Democratic senators to also publicly back the nominee.

The former Nebraska senator, who has been tapped to replace outgoing Secretary Leon Panetta, has faced sharp criticism from many senators and pro-Israel groups for his views on Middle East policy. Those critics have seized on past remarks from Hagel accusing a “Jewish lobby” of intimidating lawmakers and his calls for high-level diplomatic talks with Iran and Hamas.

Schumer is expected to push Hagel to explain those remarks and clarify his stance on Iran.

Hagel has previously expressed reluctance to support military options to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons and voted against imposing unilateral economic sanctions. The report suggests that Schumer would like reassurances that Hagel would back a more forceful stance against Iran, including support for U.S. sanctions.

Hagel has said he backs the Obama administration’s current sanctions, imposed in concert with the European Union and other allies.

A source told the Times that Schumer will also ask Hagel to explain his stance on gay-rights issues and abortion.

Pro-gay-rights groups have also raised questions about his nomination, highlighting Hagel’s past comments about an openly gay ambassadorial nominee, whom the former senator described as “aggressively gay” and whose nomination he opposed.

Hagel earlier this month apologized for those remarks, but gay-rights groups have questioned whether he will be committed to enforcing the administration’s policies undoing “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Many GOP lawmakers have already said they would oppose Hagel’s confirmation, with many Democrats remaining on the fence.

Sens. John CornynJohn CornynGOP senators to donors: Stick with us regardless of Trump Hopes dim for mental health deal Overnight Finance: Senate punts on Zika funding | House panel clears final spending bill | Biz groups press Treasury on tax rules | Obama trade rep confident Pacific deal passes this year MORE (R-Texas), David VitterDavid VitterDavid Duke will bank on racial tensions in Louisiana Senate bid Former KKK leader David Duke running for Senate Six senators call on housing regulator to let Congress finish housing finance reform MORE (R-La.) and Ted CruzTed CruzWalker jabs at Kasich for snubbing GOP convention Trump: Cruz is 'lucky' that I walked in on his speech Kasich leaves door open to Trump endorsement MORE (R-Texas) have said they would vote against him. And on Sunday, Sen. Bob CorkerBob CorkerTrump starts considering Cabinet Trump's secret weapon is Ivanka Senate Dems introduce Iran sanctions extension MORE (R-Tenn.) questioned Hagel’s “temperament,” saying that reports from former staffers about how they were treated by Hagel should be looked at during the confirmation. 

But Hagel has received strong support from the administration, which has touted his record as a combat veteran.

On Sunday, former Secretary of State Colin Powell offered a strong defense of the Pentagon nominee, calling him “superbly qualified based on his overall record, his service to the country.”

Winning Schumer’s support could be crucial with lawmakers still uncommitted to Hagel.

Independent Sen. Angus KingAngus KingClinton VP pick could face liberal ire Independent Sen. Angus King endorses Clinton McCain: Inaction on encryption 'furthering the cause of child pornographers' MORE (Maine) on Monday said the nominee would need to put to rest any concerns over his policy views.

“I think it depends on him convincing a number of members of the Senate, particularly Sen. Schumer, that he's got a balanced approach to the Middle East, he has the right temperament, the right background,” said King on CBS’s “This Morning.”

Jeremy Herb and Daniel Strauss contributed.

This story was updated at 10:51 a.m.