Bruising confirmation fight could weaken Hagel in top Pentagon job

Former Sen. Chuck HagelChuck HagelCreating a future for vets in DC Republicans back Clinton, but will she put them in Pentagon? There's still time for another third-party option MORE (R-Neb.) may survive a bruising confirmation battle in the Senate, but the fight will leave him in a weakened position trying to sell the Pentagon’s agenda to Congress.

President Obama’s nominee to lead the Pentagon was subjected to a harsh eight-hour grilling at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, where he faced a barrage of attacks Thursday from most Republicans on the panel.

ADVERTISEMENT
It’s the same committee that will work closely with the next Defense secretary on a number of pressing issues, from sequestration and budget cuts to the drawdown in Afghanistan.

Defense analysts and congressional aides say that Hagel’s rough confirmation hearing and a near party-line vote that’s expected on the Senate floor will sap what little political capital he may have had heading into the top Pentagon job.

One GOP aide knowledgeable in defense issues said that Republican uneasiness over Hagel would make it much tougher to him reach deals over controversial issues in defense legislation than Obama’s first two Defense secretaries, Robert Gates and Leon Panetta.

“You need a strong, tough secretary of Defense to push back when he’s right, and not cave when he faces tough questions,” said the aide. “With a guy like Hagel, you don’t know that a deal you cut in the room is the deal you’ve got when he leaves. With Gates, and Panetta, at least you knew that.”

Many Defense secretaries have had a contentious relationship with Congress — Gates is a good example. But Gates and others were still successful with because they could strong-arm controversial items through Congress when needed, said Mackenzie Eaglen, a defense analyst at the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute.

“On the Republican side, it isn’t about the actual number of votes, it’s about the perception that Sen. Hagel is unsure, unsteady and unprepared for the hearing, and possibly for the job,” Eaglen said.

“He lost political capital that will absolutely hurt him in the job, capital that he’s going to need almost immediately in dealing with sequester and the 2014 budget request that will have a host of controversial items in it for Congress.”

Hagel’s confirmation fight has been the most contentious for a Defense secretary nominee since the Senate defeated former Sen. John Tower’s confirmation in 1989. National Security confirmations for State and Defense posts are typically more like former Sen. John KerryJohn KerryWhite House strikes 'Israel' from transcript of Jerusalem speech UN to investigate Syria aid convoy bombing WATCH: Impatient Obama waits for Bill Clinton to board Air Force One MORE’s (D-Mass.), who was confirmed last week in a 96-3 vote.

One Democratic official said the tough confirmation process wouldn’t stop Hagel from being a strong Defense secretary.

“The way some of the Republicans behaved yesterday I think has the potential to hurt them much more than it does Chuck Hagel,” the official said. “He wants to work with Congress and he will, but it was hard to see yesterday how they’d want to work with him when they wouldn’t even let him answer basic questions.”

Hagel has done plenty of outreach in the Senate, and he has more one-on-one meetings planned with senators next week. An administration official working on Hagel’s confirmation said that Hagel expects to have sat down with more than 70 senators by the end of next week.

The former Nebraska senator was known for his independent streak during his two-terms in the Senate, and he angered many in his party with his vocal criticism of the George W. Bush administration over the Iraq war.

That policy dispute drove a wedge between Hagel and Sen. John McCainJohn McCainGOP lawmakers slam secret agreement to help lift Iran bank sanctions Kerry: US 'on the verge' of suspending talks with Russia on Syria Trump, Clinton to headline Al Smith dinner MORE (R-Ariz.), who had the most heated exchange with Hagel over the surge at Thursday’s hearing.

Hagel has also ruffled feathers since he left the Senate by endorsing Democrats, including the 2012 opponent of freshman Sen. Deb FischerDeb FischerIvanka sells Trump childcare to Capitol Hill GOP to Obama: Sanction Chinese entities to get to North Korea Massachusetts demonstrates progress is possible on equal pay MORE (R-Neb.).

On the House side, Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) issue a statement Thursday saying he opposed Hagel’s confirmation.

While Hagel faces a sea of “no” votes from Senate Republicans, his confirmation still looks likely because no Democrats appear to wavering against him, and they have a 55-45 advantage in the Senate.

If Hagel doesn’t lose any Democrats, Republicans would need to take the unprecedented step of filibustering a national security Cabinet nominee, something no Republican senator has threatened to do yet.

An aide to Sen. John CornynJohn CornynHow the White House got rolled on the Saudi-9/11 bill GOP leaders express reservations a day after 9/11 veto override McConnell opens door to changing 9/11 bill MORE (R-Texas), the No. 2 Republican in the Senate who was one of the first to oppose Hagel, said that “all options are on the table,” when asked about a potential filibuster.

Five Republicans have said they were “no” votes on Hagel since his hearing began Thursday, bringing the total number of Republicans opposed to 12. A handful more have indicated they are highly likely to vote against Hagel.

One Republican, Sen. Thad CochranThad CochranMomentum builds for Clyburn poverty plan 'Hardball' Pentagon memo creates firestorm Insiders dominate year of the outsider MORE (R-Miss.), has said he will support Hagel’s confirmation.

Seventeen Democrats had said they were backing Hagel as of Friday afternoon. White House press secretary Jay Carney said the administration expected Hagel to be confirmed, and senior White House adviser Dan Pfeiffer said Friday was "no question" the White House had secured more than 50 votes.

Carney took aim at some of the Republicans questions of Hagel at Friday’s press briefing, accusing them of “badgering” the nominee.

“Somewhat bizarrely, given that we have 66,000 Americans in uniform in Afghanistan, senators yesterday, in a hearing for the nomination of a secretary of Defense, asked very few questions about that active war,” Carney said. “Instead, they wanted to re-litigate the past.”

The list of who has said they are voting for or against Hagel’s confirmation:

YES

1. Sen. Carl LevinCarl LevinThe Fed and a return to banking simplicity What Our presidential candidates can learn from Elmo Zumwalt Will there be a 50-50 Senate next year? MORE (D-Mich.)*

2. Sen. Harry ReidHarry ReidThe missed opportunity of JASTA States urged to bolster election security How the White House got rolled on the Saudi-9/11 bill MORE (D-Nev.)

3. Sen. Jack ReedJack ReedDemocrats press Wells Fargo CEO for more answers on scandal Senators already eyeing changes to 9/11 bill after veto override Overnight Finance: McConnell offers 'clean' funding bill | Dems pan proposal | Flint aid, internet measure not included | More heat for Wells Fargo | New concerns on investor visas MORE (D-R.I.)*

4. Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick LeahyOvernight Tech: TV box plan faces crucial vote | Trump transition team to meet tech groups | Growing scrutiny of Yahoo security Leahy wants Judiciary hearing on Yahoo Overnight Cybersecurity: FBI probes possible hack of Dems' phones | Trump's '400-pound hacker' | Pressure builds on Yahoo | Poll trolls run wild MORE (D-Vt.)

5. Sen. Chris MurphyChris MurphySenators press State Department on 'plan B' in Syria Could Snapchat be the digital bridge to younger voters? Saudi skeptics gain strength in Congress MORE (D-Conn.)

6. Sen. Jay RockefellerJay RockefellerLobbying world Overnight Tech: Senators place holds on FCC commissioner Overnight Tech: Senate panel to vote on Dem FCC commissioner MORE (D-W.Va.)

7. Sen. Charles SchumerCharles SchumerElection-year politics: Senate Dems shun GOP vulnerables Democrats press Wells Fargo CEO for more answers on scandal 78 lawmakers vote to sustain Obama veto MORE (D-N.Y.)

8. Sen. Barbara BoxerBarbara BoxerDems gain upper hand on budget Overnight Finance: Senate rejects funding bill as shutdown looms | Labor Dept. to probe Wells Fargo | Fed to ease stress test rules for small banks Funding bill rejected as shutdown nears MORE (D-Calif.)

9. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen Jeanne ShaheenSenators press State Department on 'plan B' in Syria Senate passes bill to preserve sexual assault kits Dems call for better birth control access for female troops MORE (D-N.H.)*

10. Sen. Chris CoonsChris CoonsElection-year politics: Senate Dems shun GOP vulnerables Overnight Healthcare: McConnell unveils new Zika package | Manchin defends daughter on EpiPens | Bill includes M for opioid crisis Dems to GOP: Help us fix ObamaCare MORE (D-Del.)

11. Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinElection-year politics: Senate Dems shun GOP vulnerables Mylan CEO should be ashamed of EpiPen prices Overnight Finance: Senate rejects funding bill as shutdown looms | Labor Dept. to probe Wells Fargo | Fed to ease stress test rules for small banks MORE (D-W.Va.)*

12. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.)

13. Sen. Mazie HironoMazie HironoOvernight Finance: Lawmakers float criminal charges for Wells Fargo chief | Scrutiny on Trump's Cuba dealings | Ryan warns of recession if no tax reform Anti-trade senators say chamber would be crazy to pass TPP Overnight Finance: McConnell offers 'clean' funding bill | Dems pan proposal | Flint aid, internet measure not included | More heat for Wells Fargo | New concerns on investor visas MORE (D-Hawaii)*

14. Sen. Mark UdallMark UdallColorado GOP Senate race to unseat Dem incumbent is wide open Energy issues roil race for Senate Unable to ban Internet gambling, lawmakers try for moratorium MORE (D-Colo.)*

15. Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandOvernight Tech: TV box plan faces crucial vote | Trump transition team to meet tech groups | Growing scrutiny of Yahoo security Overnight Finance: McConnell offers 'clean' funding bill | Dems pan proposal | Flint aid, internet measure not included | More heat for Wells Fargo | New concerns on investor visas Senate Dems call for investigation into Wells Fargo's wage practices MORE (D-N.Y.)*

16. Sen. Richard BlumenthalRichard BlumenthalOvernight Tech: FCC chief downplays delay to TV box reforms | Lawsuit filed over internet transition | Waze rolls out ridehailing service Anti-trade senators say chamber would be crazy to pass TPP Leahy wants Judiciary hearing on Yahoo MORE (D-Conn.)*

17. Sen. Al FrankenAl FrankenAnti-trade senators say chamber would be crazy to pass TPP Overnight Tech: TV box plan faces crucial vote | Trump transition team to meet tech groups | Growing scrutiny of Yahoo security Overnight Regulation: Supporters push for TV box reforms ahead of vote MORE (D-Minn.)

18. Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.)



NO

1. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas)

2. Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzJudge rejects attempt to stop internet oversight transfer Tech groups file court brief opposing internet transition suit Cruz criticizes federal law enforcement on terrorism MORE (R-Texas)*

3. Sen. Roger WickerRoger WickerTo protect taxpayers, the Hyde Amendment must be permanent GOP pressures Kerry on Russia's use of Iranian airbase GOP to Obama: Sanction Chinese entities to get to North Korea MORE (R-Miss.)*

4. Sen. David VitterDavid VitterGOP pressures Kerry on Russia's use of Iranian airbase Louisiana needs Caroline Fayard as its new senator Louisiana Republicans: This isn’t like Sandy MORE (R-La.)*

5. Sen. Tom CoburnTom CoburnRyan calls out GOP in anti-poverty fight The Trail 2016: Words matter Ex-Sen. Coburn: I won’t challenge Trump, I’ll vote for him MORE (R-Okla.)

6. Sen. Jim InhofeJames InhofeFunding bill rejected as shutdown nears Senate Dems: Add Flint aid to spending deal Shutdown risk grows over Flint MORE (R-Okla.)*

7. Sen. Pat RobertsPat RobertsGOP senators ask watchdog to examine Gitmo site surveys spending Senate panel approves pension rescue for coal miners Congress set for Saudi showdown with Obama MORE (R-Kan.)

8. Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioRubio, Heck help out at car crash scene Florida paper endorses Clinton, writes separate piece on why not Trump GOP lawmakers slam secret agreement to help lift Iran bank sanctions MORE (R-Fla.)

9. Sen. Dan CoatsDan CoatsDem groups invest big in Bayh in Ind. Senate race Indiana Senate race tightens as Republicans take on Bayh Conservative group targets Evan Bayh on ObamaCare MORE (R-Ind.)

10. Sen. Roy BluntRoy BluntDem groups target Blunt with .3 million ad campaign The Trail 2016: Just a little kick Senate rivals gear up for debates MORE (R-Mo.)*

11. Sen. Richard BurrRichard BurrDem groups invest big in Bayh in Ind. Senate race The Trail 2016: Fight night Poll finds races for president, Senate tight in North Carolina MORE (R-N.C.)

12. Sen. Mark KirkMark KirkFormer Miss Universe becomes surprise story to emerge from debate Senate rivals gear up for debates The Trail 2016: Trump seizes on Charlotte violence MORE (R-Ill.)


* = Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which will vote on Hagel first