Bruising confirmation fight could weaken Hagel in top Pentagon job

Bruising confirmation fight could weaken Hagel in top Pentagon job

Former Sen. Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelThe Hill's 12:30 Report The Hill's 12:30 Report Billionaires stopping climate change action have a hold on Trump, GOP 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.

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 Forbes KerryBringing the American election experience to Democratic Republic of the Congo Some Dems sizzle, others see their stock fall on road to 2020 The Hill's 12:30 Report 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 Sidney McCainSenate's defense authorization would set cyber doctrine Senate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Overnight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions 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 FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerSenate approves Trump's debt deal with Democrats Trump administration turns to rural communities for input on infrastructure bill Senators eye ticket fee to overhaul airports 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 CornynNew GOP ObamaCare repeal bill gains momentum Week ahead: Senators near deal to stabilize ObamaCare markets GOP eying 'blue slip' break to help Trump fill the courts 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 CochranWilliam (Thad) Thad CochranMcConnell tees up debt, government-funding vote National Flood Insurance Program is the next storm for hurricane survivors Trump exempts Citgo from Venezuela sanctions 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:


1. Sen. Carl LevinCarl LevinPresident Trump, listen to candidate Trump and keep Volcker Rule Republicans can learn from John McCain’s heroism Trump and GOP wise to keep tax reform and infrastructure separate MORE (D-Mich.)*

2. Sen. Harry ReidHarry ReidThe Memo: Trump pulls off a stone-cold stunner The Memo: Ending DACA a risky move for Trump Manchin pressed from both sides in reelection fight MORE (D-Nev.)

3. Sen. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Raymond ReedOvernight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions Senate passes 0B defense bill This week: Senate wrapping up defense bill after amendment fight MORE (D-R.I.)*

4. Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyOvernight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions Senate passes 0B defense bill Live coverage: Sanders rolls out single-payer bill MORE (D-Vt.)

5. Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphySenate Dem: Graham-Cassidy is an 'intellectual and moral garbage truck fire' Dems call for action against Cassidy-Graham ObamaCare repeal Murphy fires back at Trump on filibuster MORE (D-Conn.)

6. Sen. Jay RockefellerJay RockefellerOvernight Tech: Trump nominates Dem to FCC | Facebook pulls suspected baseball gunman's pages | Uber board member resigns after sexist comment Trump nominates former FCC Dem for another term Obama to preserve torture report in presidential papers MORE (D-W.Va.)

7. Sen. Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSenate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill This week: Senate wrapping up defense bill after amendment fight Cuomo warns Dems against cutting DACA deal with Trump MORE (D-N.Y.)

8. Sen. Barbara BoxerBarbara BoxerTrump riles Dems with pick for powerful EPA job Pelosi's chief of staff stepping down Time is now to address infrastructure needs MORE (D-Calif.)

9. Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenWeek ahead: Crunch time for defense bill’s cyber reforms | Equifax under scrutiny Five things to know about the Kaspersky-Russia controversy DHS bans Kaspersky software in federal agencies MORE (D-N.H.)*

10. Sen. Chris CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsRaising awareness about maternal health worldwide on National Bump Day Senate plans hearing for bills to protect Mueller Entering a new era of African investment MORE (D-Del.)

11. Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinGOP sees fresh opening with Dems’ single payer embrace Trump steps up courtship of Dems The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (D-W.Va.)*

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

13. Sen. Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoLive coverage: Sanders rolls out single-payer bill Where Dems stand on Sanders's single-payer bill The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (D-Hawaii)*

14. Sen. Mark UdallMark UdallDemocratic primary could upend bid for Colorado seat Picking 2018 candidates pits McConnell vs. GOP groups Gorsuch's critics, running out of arguments, falsely scream 'sexist' MORE (D-Colo.)*

15. Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandOvernight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions Overnight Cybersecurity: Equifax hit by earlier hack | What to know about Kaspersky controversy | Officials review EU-US privacy pact Senate passes 0B defense bill MORE (D-N.Y.)*

16. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.)*

17. Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenGOP eying 'blue slip' break to help Trump fill the courts Overnight Regulation: FTC launches probe into Equifax | Dems propose tougher data security rules | NYC aims to slash greenhouse gas emissions | EPA to reconsider Obama coal ash rule Overnight Cybersecurity: Kaspersky to testify before House | US sanctions Iranians over cyberattacks | Equifax reveals flaw that led to hack MORE (D-Minn.)

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


1. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas)

2. Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSenate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Overnight Finance: CBO to release limited analysis of ObamaCare repeal bill | DOJ investigates Equifax stock sales | House weighs tougher rules for banks dealing with North Korea GOP state lawmakers meet to plan possible constitutional convention MORE (R-Texas)*

3. Sen. Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerWeek ahead: Crunch time for defense bill’s cyber reforms | Equifax under scrutiny Senator says he nearly has the votes for ObamaCare repeal GOP braces for Bannon primary attacks MORE (R-Miss.)*

4. Sen. David VitterDavid VitterYou're fired! Why it's time to ditch the Fed's community banker seat Overnight Energy: Trump set to propose sharp cuts to EPA, energy spending Former La. official tapped as lead offshore drilling regulator MORE (R-La.)*

5. Sen. Tom CoburnTom Coburn-trillion debt puts US fiscal house on very shaky ground Al Franken: 'I make fun of the people who deserved it' The more complex the tax code, the more the wealthy benefit MORE (R-Okla.)

6. Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeA third of Congress hasn’t held a town hall — it’s time to take action Anonymous affiliate publishes claimed list of GOP private contact info Wasting America’s nuclear opportunity MORE (R-Okla.)*

7. Sen. Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsNo. 2 Senate Republican backs McConnell in Trump fight Overnight Healthcare: McConnell warns Senate not to block repeal debate | Insurers knock Cruz proposal | WH tries to discredit CBO | Lawmakers propose .1B NIH funding boost Trump: I’ll be ‘very angry’ if Senate doesn’t pass ObamaCare repeal bill MORE (R-Kan.)

8. Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioOvernight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions Senate passes 0B defense bill Trump bets base will stick with him on immigration MORE (R-Fla.)

9. Sen. Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsOvernight Cybersecurity: DHS bans agencies from using Kaspersky software | Panel calls Equifax CEO to testify | Facebook pulling ads from fake news Mueller investigation focusing on social media's role in 2016 election: report Intelligence director criticizes former officials for speaking out against Trump MORE (R-Ind.)

10. Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntTop Senate Dem: We're going forward with understanding we can work with White House on DACA Sunday shows preview: Trump officials gear up for UN assembly Air Force One is Trump’s new boardroom MORE (R-Mo.)*

11. Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrLawmakers grapple with warrantless wiretapping program Facebook under fire over Russian ads in election 5 senators call for US to shutter embassy in Havana MORE (R-N.C.)

12. Sen. Mark KirkMark KirkStale, misguided, divisive: minimum wage can't win elections Immigration critics find their champion in Trump Trump's nominee to lead USAID has the right philosophy on international aid MORE (R-Ill.)

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