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 HagelOvernight Defense: Latest on historic Korea summit | Trump says 'many people' interested in VA job | Pompeo thinks Trump likely to leave Iran deal Should Mike Pompeo be confirmed? Intel chief: Federal debt poses 'dire threat' to national security 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 InhofeSenate panel unanimously approves water infrastructure bill Defense bill moves forward with lawmakers thinking about McCain Overnight Energy: EPA moves to roll back chemical plant safety rule | NASA chief says humans contribute to climate change | Pruitt gets outside lawyer 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 CornynAdministration works to assuage critics over ZTE deal Dem leaders request bipartisan meeting on Russia probe House easily passes prison reform bill backed by Trump 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 Democrat drops Senate bid Dems look to keep up momentum in upcoming special elections Chamber of Commerce makes play in Mississippi Senate race for Hyde-Smith MORE (R-Miss.) — the first Republican backer — and key Democrats like Sen. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — GOP centrists in striking distance of immigration vote Schumer: Trump should take Kim Jong Un off 'trip coin' Overnight Finance: Trump signs repeal of auto-loan policy | Justices uphold contracts that bar employee class-action suits | US, China trade war 'on hold' 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 McConnellSenators introduce bill to overhaul sexual harassment policy The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by PhRMA — Republicans see some daylight in midterm polling Exclusive: Bannon says Rosenstein could be fired 'very shortly' 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 LevinHow House Republicans scrambled the Russia probe Congress dangerously wields its oversight power in Russia probe The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by CVS Health — Trump’s love-hate relationship with the Senate 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 WickerSenate panel unanimously approves water infrastructure bill Trump endorses Arkansas governor's reelection bid ahead of primary Senate GOP urges Trump administration to work closely with Congress on NAFTA MORE (R-Wyo.), Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSenators introduce bill to overhaul sexual harassment policy Greatest risk to the Republican majority? Rising interest rates GOP Senate primary heats up in Montana 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 McCainFor .2 billion, taxpayers should get more than Congress’s trial balloons Overnight Defense: Pompeo lays out new Iran terms | Pentagon hints at more aggressive posture against Iran | House, Senate move on defense bill Senate GOP urges Trump administration to work closely with Congress on NAFTA 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 GrahamThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — GOP centrists in striking distance of immigration vote Dem leaders request bipartisan meeting on Russia probe Senate GOP urges Trump administration to work closely with Congress on NAFTA MORE (R-S.C.) told reporters Tuesday when asked how he was approaching the hearing.