Hagel to confront critics in make-or-break confirmation hearing

Hagel to confront critics in make-or-break confirmation hearing

Former Sen. Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelIntel chief: Federal debt poses 'dire threat' to national security Hagel: Trump is 'an embarrassment' Tax cut complete, hawks push for military increase MORE (R-Neb.) will confront his critics on Thursday at a hearing that will likely determine whether he is confirmed as President Obama’s next secretary of Defense.

GOP senators who oppose the nomination— including the Armed Service Committee’s top Republican, Sen. Jim InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeSenators to Trump: Keep pressure on North Korea while exploring talks Why did this administration back the Palestine Liberation Organization in terrorism case? Overnight Defense: Top general says countering Iran in Syria isn't US mission | Trump, Boeing reach 'informal' agreement for new Air Force One | Chair warns of Russian mercenaries in Syria MORE (Okla.) — are ready to pepper Hagel with sharp questions about the Iraq war, Israel, Iran and much more in a bid to erode his support.

Sources close to the confirmation process say Hagel has prepared for the hearing in private sessions that were designed to mimic the grilling he will face from both sides of the aisle.

“Hagel is very comfortable with his record and his experience,” said a source close to the confirmation process. “One of the things that plays to his strength here is once people are able to hear him lay out his worldview in the open, I think it will really re-frame the way that the conversation has gone.

“He’s eager to have that opportunity,” the source said.

Republicans are just as hungry for the clash, and have honed their rhetoric for what could be one of the most contentious confirmation hearings in recent memory.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynWhite House officials expect short-term funding bill to avert shutdown Spending bill delay raises risk of partial government shutdown support GOP leaders to Trump: Leave Mueller alone MORE (R-Texas), the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, took to the floor of the upper chamber Wednesday to argue that Hagel’s nomination has already “done damage” to U.S. security.

“He’s the same person that suggested that the United States might be able to live with a nuclear Iran,” Cornyn said. “In other words, Hagel has no credibility on the biggest security issue facing the Obama administration in its second term.”

Conservative groups have a lot riding on the outcome of the battle, having spent considerable sums on television ads and websites that portray Hagel as unfit to lead the military.

But the former senator will arrive in the hearing room with momentum on his side, having picked up an endorsement from Sen. Thad CochranWilliam (Thad) Thad CochranMississippi gov to fill Cochran seat with agriculture commissioner: report GOP leaders see finish line on omnibus deal McDaniel to run for open Senate seat in Miss. rather than challenge Wicker MORE (R-Miss.) — the first Republican backer — and key Democrats like Sen. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerConscience protections for health-care providers should be standard Pension committee must deliver on retirement promise Dem super PAC launches ad defending Donnelly on taxes MORE (D-N.Y.).

If no Democrats vote against Hagel, he would only need the support of four Republicans to defeat a potential filibuster. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP senator blocking Trump's Intel nominee Spending bill delay raises risk of partial government shutdown support GOP leaders to Trump: Leave Mueller alone MORE (R-Ky.) declined to say this week whether he would support forcing a 60-vote threshold for Hagel’s confirmation.

Hagel has been building support on Capitol Hill in a series of private, one-on-one conversations with senators. Those meetings seemed to have won over Democrats who were initially skeptical of his nomination.

“What you’ve seen from key senators, key leadership folks, and most recently with Cochran, is a steady stream of folks saying, ‘I met with him, I talked with him, and I can be openly and vocally supportive,” said a source close to Hagel’s confirmation.

A dozen Democrats say they will vote for Hagel, and a few more, including Armed Services Chairman Carl LevinCarl Milton LevinSen. Gillibrand, eyeing 2020 bid, rankles some Democrats The Hill's 12:30 Report Congress needs bipartisanship to fully investigate Russian influence MORE (D-Mich.), appear to be waiting until after the hearing before endorsing him, mostly as a formality.

Seven Republicans have already promised to vote against Obama’s nominee, and others seem to be leaning that direction. Three senators who have pledged “no” votes — Sens. Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerMississippi gov to fill Cochran seat with agriculture commissioner: report Senate Commerce presses Facebook, Cambridge Analytica for answers on data McDaniel to run for open Senate seat in Miss. rather than challenge Wicker MORE (R-Wyo.), Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzCruz says Cambridge Analytica assured him its practices were legal Dem battling Cruz in Texas: ‘I can understand how people think this is crazy’ Overnight Tech: Facebook faces crisis over Cambridge Analytica data | Lawmakers demand answers | What to watch for next | Day one of AT&T's merger trial | Self-driving Uber car kills pedestrian MORE (R-Texas) and Inhofe — will question Hagel on Wednesday as committee members.

Opponents have tried to turn the tide against Hagel’s confirmation by highlighting controversial statements he made in the past about Israel, Iran and gay people.

Hagel will have to answer to past statements that have been repeated frequently by opponents, such as his comments that the “Jewish lobby” intimidates Washington and his remark that a diplomatic nominee was “aggressively gay.”

Anticipating the onslaught, officials working to aide Hagel’s confirmation have circulated a “myths and facts” document that addresses his record as Republican senator. He also submitted a 112-page response to questions from the committee ahead of Thursday’s hearing.

In that document, Hagel addressed allegations that he would be soft on America’s enemies, saying his is “committed to considering all options to counter Iran and its aggression.”

Lawmakers have also indicated they will press Hagel over his assertion in 2011 that the Pentagon budget was “bloated,” and over potential reductions to the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainTrump congratulated Putin after his national security team told him not to: report Trump faces backlash after congratulating Putin on election win McCain rips Trump's congratulatory call to Putin as an insult to Russian people MORE (R-Ariz.), meanwhile, wants Hagel to explain his “bizarre” assertion that the Iraq surge was a bad idea, a topic that divided the two senators during the 2008 presidential race.

Hagel will also have to defend himself against allegations that he has changed his views out of political expediency during his metamorphosis into a friend and ally of Democrats.

“Who are we getting: the guy today or the guy who said things before?” Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSteyer brings his push to impeach Trump to town halls across the nation Trump formally sends Pompeo nomination to Senate GOP leaders to Trump: Leave Mueller alone MORE (R-S.C.) told reporters Tuesday when asked how he was approaching the hearing.