Bruising confirmation fight could weaken Hagel in top Pentagon job

Bruising confirmation fight could weaken Hagel in top Pentagon job

Former Sen. Chuck HagelChuck HagelLobbying World Ex-Dem leader: Clinton should include GOP in Cabinet Even Steven: How would a 50-50 Senate operate? 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.

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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 KerryWords are not enough — US must support Christians who survived genocide in Iraq What’s Russia’s real power? The power of the purse Can Ivanka Trump and Al Gore unite against climate change? 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 McCainThe trouble with Rex Tillerson   Senate: Act now to save Ukraine A Cabinet position for Petraeus; disciplinary actions for Broadwell after affair 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 FischerSenate GOP to Obama: Stop issuing new rules Trump’s Cabinet picks raise hopes for infrastructure package GOP senators avoid Trump questions on rigged election 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 CornynSenate GOP: National museum should include Clarence Thomas Trump gets chance to remake the courts Lawmakers eye early exit from Washington 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 CochranGOP senators voice misgivings about short-term spending bill Trump's wrong to pick Bannon or Sessions for anything Bottom Line 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:

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1. Sen. Carl LevinCarl Levin'Nuclear option' for Supreme Court nominees will damage Senate McCain's Supreme Court strategy leads to nuclear Senate The Fed and a return to banking simplicity MORE (D-Mich.)*

2. Sen. Harry ReidHarry ReidOvernight Tech: FCC eyes cybersecurity role | More trouble for spectrum auction | Google seeks 'conservative outreach' director Cures bill clears first Senate hurdle Dem senator had 'constructive' talk with Trump MORE (D-Nev.)

3. Sen. Jack ReedJack ReedThis Week in Cybersecurity: Dems press for information on Russian hacks A Cabinet position for Petraeus; disciplinary actions for Broadwell after affair Overnight Cybersecurity: Last-ditch effort to stop expanded hacking powers fails MORE (D-R.I.)*

4. Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick LeahyPassing US-Canada preclearance would improve security and economy GOP wants to move fast on Sessions Senate Dems pan talk of short-term spending bill MORE (D-Vt.)

5. Sen. Chris MurphyChris MurphyOvernight Finance: Trump adviser softens tone on NAFTA | Funding bill to be released Tuesday | GOP leader won't back Trump tariff plan Wrestling mogul McMahon could slam her way into Trump administration Dem on Trump's foreign policy moves: 'That's how wars start' 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 SchumerDems press Trump to support ‘Buy America’ provision in water bill Overnight Finance: Trump takes victory lap at Carrier plant | House passes 'too big to fail' revamp | Trump econ team takes shape Anti-Defamation League: Ellison's past remarks about Israel 'disqualifying' MORE (D-N.Y.)

8. Sen. Barbara BoxerBarbara BoxerA record number of Indian Americans have been elected to Congress Congress strikes deal on water bill with Flint aid Senator blasts GOP push for California drought language in water bill MORE (D-Calif.)

9. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen Jeanne ShaheenThis Week in Cybersecurity: Dems press for information on Russian hacks Overnight Tech: Venture capitalists' message to Trump | Bitcoin site ordered to give IRS data | Broadband gets faster Dem senator: Hold hearing on Russian interference in election MORE (D-N.H.)*

10. Sen. Chris CoonsChris CoonsTrump gets chance to remake the courts A Cabinet position for Petraeus; disciplinary actions for Broadwell after affair Overnight Defense: Trump reportedly picking Mattis for Defense chief MORE (D-Del.)

11. Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinCould bipartisanship rise with Trump government? Overnight Finance: Trump adviser softens tone on NAFTA | Funding bill to be released Tuesday | GOP leader won't back Trump tariff plan Top Dem signals likely opposition to Sessions nomination MORE (D-W.Va.)*

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

13. Sen. Mazie HironoMazie HironoThis Week in Cybersecurity: Dems press for information on Russian hacks Overnight Cybersecurity: Last-ditch effort to stop expanded hacking powers fails Intel Dems push for info on Russia and election be declassified MORE (D-Hawaii)*

14. Sen. Mark UdallMark UdallGardner's chief of staff tapped for Senate GOP campaign director The untold stories of the 2016 battle for the Senate Colorado GOP Senate race to unseat Dem incumbent is wide open MORE (D-Colo.)*

15. Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandGOP chairman: Spending bill expected to last through April Vet groups applaud Trump's Defense pick of Mattis Dem lawmaker won't support waiver allowing Mattis to serve as defense secretary MORE (D-N.Y.)*

16. Sen. Richard BlumenthalRichard BlumenthalOvernight Finance: Trump adviser softens tone on NAFTA | Funding bill to be released Tuesday | GOP leader won't back Trump tariff plan Trump gets chance to remake the courts Wrestling mogul McMahon could slam her way into Trump administration MORE (D-Conn.)*

17. Sen. Al FrankenAl FrankenDems press Trump to keep Obama overtime rule GOP wants to move fast on Sessions Overnight Cybersecurity: Lawmakers pushing for vote to delay warrant rule changes MORE (D-Minn.)

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



NO

1. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas)

2. Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzSenate GOP: National museum should include Clarence Thomas Senate GOP to Obama: Stop issuing new rules Week ahead: AT&T-Time Warner merger under scrutiny MORE (R-Texas)*

3. Sen. Roger WickerRoger WickerSenate GOP to Obama: Stop issuing new rules Marijuana backers worry over AG Sessions Gardner's chief of staff tapped for Senate GOP campaign director MORE (R-Miss.)*

4. Sen. David VitterDavid VitterPoll: Republican holds 14-point lead in Louisiana Senate runoff Louisiana dishes last serving of political gumbo Trump tweets about flag burning, setting off a battle MORE (R-La.)*

5. Sen. Tom CoburnTom CoburnWill Trump back women’s museum? Don't roll back ban on earmarks Ryan calls out GOP in anti-poverty fight MORE (R-Okla.)

6. Sen. Jim InhofeJames InhofeSenate GOP to Obama: Stop issuing new rules Feds to consider renewed protections for bird species Trump’s nominees may face roadblocks MORE (R-Okla.)*

7. Sen. Pat RobertsPat RobertsSenate GOP to Obama: Stop issuing new rules GOP debates going big on tax reform Memo to the LGBT community: Donald Trump is not your enemy MORE (R-Kan.)

8. Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioSenate GOP to Obama: Stop issuing new rules Juan Williams: McConnell won big by blocking Obama The ignored question: What does the future Republican Party look like? MORE (R-Fla.)

9. Sen. Dan CoatsDan CoatsTrump narrows secretary of State field to four finalists 2016’s battle for the Senate: A shifting map 10 Senate seats that could flip in 2018 MORE (R-Ind.)

10. Sen. Roy BluntRoy BluntCould bipartisanship rise with Trump government? Senate GOP to Obama: Stop issuing new rules Key Republicans ask Trump to keep on NIH director MORE (R-Mo.)*

11. Sen. Richard BurrRichard BurrTrump must be an advocate for the Small Business Administration Dems pledge to fight Sessions nomination Battle for the Senate: Top of ticket dominates MORE (R-N.C.)

12. Sen. Mark KirkMark KirkJuan Williams: McConnell won big by blocking Obama Battle for the Senate: Top of ticket dominates The untold stories of the 2016 battle for the Senate MORE (R-Ill.)


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