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 HagelPentagon documents hundreds of serious misconduct cases against top brass Obama defense sec: Trump's treatment of Gold Star families 'sickens' me The Hill's 12:30 Report 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 InhofeGOP senator on backing Moore: ‘It’s a numbers game’ Overnight Energy: Panel advances controversial Trump nominee | Ex-coal boss Blankenship to run for Senate | Dem commissioner joins energy regulator Senate panel advances controversial environmental nominee 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 CornynMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Air Force makes criminal reporting changes after Texas massacre We need a better pathway for allowing civilians to move guns across state lines 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 CochranObstruction of justice watch: Trump attacks the FBI America isn't ready to let Sessions off his leash The Hill's Whip List: Where Republicans stand on Senate tax bill MORE (R-Miss.) — the first Republican backer — and key Democrats like Sen. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerAmerica isn't ready to let Sessions off his leash Schumer celebrates New York Giants firing head coach: ‘About time’ GOP should reject the left's pessimism and the deficit trigger 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 strategist donates to Alabama Democrat McConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Brent Budowsky: A plea to Alabama voters 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 LevinCongress: The sleeping watchdog Congress must not give companies tax reasons to move jobs overseas A lesson on abuse of power by Obama and his Senate allies 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 WickerSenator predicts Congress will wrap up tax work in two weeks The Hill's Whip List: Where Republicans stand on Senate tax bill US warship collides with Japanese tug boat MORE (R-Wyo.), Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzDebbie Wasserman Schultz marks 10 years as breast cancer survivor Foreign agent registration is no magical shield against Russian propaganda Let Trump be Trump and he'll sail through 2020 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 McCainGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat Meghan McCain knocks Bannon: 'Who the hell are you' to criticize Romney? Dems demand Tillerson end State hiring freeze, consult with Congress 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 GrahamGOP and Dems bitterly divided by immigration We are running out of time to protect Dreamers US trade deficit rises on record imports from China MORE (R-S.C.) told reporters Tuesday when asked how he was approaching the hearing.