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 HagelAlmost 100 former officials, members of Congress urge Senate action on election security GOP Senate candidate said Republicans have 'dual loyalties' to Israel White House aide moves to lobbying firm 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 KerryBiden rallies with John Kerry in early primary states Booker on Harris dropping out: 'Iowa voters should have the right to choose' Warren, Buttigieg fight echoes 2004 campaign, serves as warning for 2020 race 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 McCainMan acquitted over tweet offering 0 to killing an ICE agent Lessons of the Kamala Harris campaign Overnight Defense: Trump clashes with Macron at NATO summit | House impeachment report says Trump abused power | Top Dem scolds military leaders on Trump intervention in war crimes cases 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 stopgap bill to prevent shutdown Eleven GOP senators sign open letter backing Sessions's comeback bid Female lawmakers make bipartisan push for more women in politics at All In Together gala 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 CornynTrump, GOP shift focus from alleged surveillance abuse to Durham Russia probe Hillicon Valley: FTC rules Cambridge Analytica engaged in 'deceptive practices' | NATO researchers warn social media failing to remove fake accounts | Sanders calls for breaking up Comcast, Verizon Bipartisan senators call on FERC to protect against Huawei threats 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 CochranMike Espy announces Mississippi Senate bid Biden has a lot at stake in first debate The Hill's Morning Report — Trump turns the page back to Mueller probe 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 Milton LevinRemembering leaders who put country above party Strange bedfellows oppose the filibuster Listen, learn and lead: Congressional newcomers should leave the extremist tactics at home MORE (D-Mich.)*

2. Sen. Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidThe Hill's Morning Report — Pelosi makes it official: Trump will be impeached Doctors are dying by suicide every day and we are not talking about it Impeachment trial throws curveball into 2020 race MORE (D-Nev.)

3. Sen. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedRepublicans raise concerns over Trump pardoning service members Overnight Defense: Trump clashes with Macron at NATO summit | House impeachment report says Trump abused power | Top Dem scolds military leaders on Trump intervention in war crimes cases Top Armed Services Democrat scolds military leaders on Trump's intervention in war crimes cases MORE (D-R.I.)*

4. Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyTrump brings pardoned soldiers on stage at Florida fundraiser: report ICE emerges as stumbling block in government funding talks Republicans raise concerns over Trump pardoning service members MORE (D-Vt.)

5. Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyHere are the Senate Republicans who could vote to convict Trump Democratic senator says he knows 'handful' of GOP colleagues considering vote to remove Trump Both sides have reason to want speedy Trump impeachment trial MORE (D-Conn.)

6. Sen. Jay RockefellerJohn (Jay) Davison RockefellerBottom Line World Health Day: It's time to fight preventable disease Lobbying World MORE (D-W.Va.)

7. Sen. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerOvernight Health Care — Presented by Johnson & Johnson — Democrats call on Supreme Court to block Louisiana abortion law | Michigan governor seeks to pause Medicaid work requirements | New front in fight over Medicaid block grants House, Senate Democrats call on Supreme Court to block Louisiana abortion law Why a second Trump term and a Democratic Congress could be a nightmare scenario for the GOP MORE (D-N.Y.)

8. Sen. Barbara BoxerBarbara Levy BoxerHillicon Valley: Ocasio-Cortez clashes with former Dem senator over gig worker bill | Software engineer indicted over Capital One breach | Lawmakers push Amazon to remove unsafe products Ocasio-Cortez blasts former Dem senator for helping Lyft fight gig worker bill Only four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates MORE (D-Calif.)

9. Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenOvernight Defense: Trump leaves door open to possible troop increase in Middle East | Putin offers immediate extension of key nuclear treaty Putin offers immediate extension of key nuclear treaty Biden reveals four women he could pick as his running mate MORE (D-N.H.)*

10. Sen. Chris CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsSenate confirms eight Trump court picks in three days Lawmakers call for investigation into program meant to help student loan borrowers with disabilities Senators defend bipartisan bill on facial recognition as cities crack down MORE (D-Del.)

11. Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinStatesmen seek bipartisan solutions to big challenges Both sides have reason to want speedy Trump impeachment trial No one wins with pro-abortion litmus test MORE (D-W.Va.)*

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

13. Sen. Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoSupreme Court poised to hear first major gun case in a decade Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Senate eyes sending stopgap spending bill back to House | Sondland delivers bombshell impeachment testimony | Pentagon deputy says he didn't try to block official's testimony Pentagon No. 2 denies trying to block official's impeachment testimony MORE (D-Hawaii)*

14. Sen. Mark UdallMark Emery UdallDemocrats will win back the Senate majority in 2020, all thanks to President Trump Poll: Trump trails three Democrats by 10 points in Colorado The Hill's Morning Report — Trump and the new Israel-'squad' controversy MORE (D-Colo.)*

15. Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandWhite House, Congress near deal to give 12 weeks paid parental leave to all federal workers Bloomberg on 2020 rivals blasting him for using his own money: 'They had a chance to go out and make a lot of money' Harris posts video asking baby if she'll run for president one day MORE (D-N.Y.)*

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

17. Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenThe job no GOP senator wants: 'I'd rather have a root canal' Take Trump literally and seriously in Minnesota Ninth woman accuses Al Franken of inappropriate contact MORE (D-Minn.)

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


1. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas)

2. Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzDemocrats express confidence in case as impeachment speeds forward Chuck Todd challenges Cruz after senator pushes theory that Ukraine meddled in election Sunday shows — Nadler: A jury would convict Trump in 'three minutes flat' MORE (R-Texas)*

3. Sen. Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerThere's a lot to like about the Senate privacy bill, if it's not watered down Trade deal talks expand as Congress debates tech legal shield Hillicon Valley: House passes anti-robocall bill | Senators inch forward on privacy legislation | Trump escalates fight over tech tax | Illinois families sue TikTok | Senators get classified briefing on ransomware MORE (R-Miss.)*

4. Sen. David VitterDavid Bruce VitterRed-state governor races put both parties on edge Louisiana Republicans score big legislative wins Trump calls on Republicans to vote out Democratic Louisiana governor amid GOP infighting MORE (R-La.)*

5. Sen. Tom CoburnThomas (Tom) Allen CoburnThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by PhRMA — Worries grow about political violence as midterms approach President Trump’s war on federal waste American patients face too many hurdles in regard to health-care access MORE (R-Okla.)

6. Sen. Jim InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeOvernight Defense: Trump leaves door open to possible troop increase in Middle East | Putin offers immediate extension of key nuclear treaty Trump leaves door open to possible troop increase in Middle East Pentagon official: 'Possible' more US troops could be deployed to Middle East MORE (R-Okla.)*

7. Sen. Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsThe Hill's Morning Report - Intel panel readies to hand off impeachment baton The job no GOP senator wants: 'I'd rather have a root canal' The Hill's Morning Report — House set for Phase 3 of impeachment push MORE (R-Kan.)

8. Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioHere are the Senate Republicans who could vote to convict Trump TikTok's leader to meet with lawmakers next week GOP senators unveil bill to expand 'opportunity zone' reporting requirements MORE (R-Fla.)

9. Sen. Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsFormer US intel official says Trump would often push back in briefings Hillicon Valley: Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract in court | State antitrust investigation into Google expands | Intel agencies no longer collecting location data without warrant Intelligence agencies have stopped collecting cellphone data without warrants: letter MORE (R-Ind.)

10. Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntTrump's legal team huddles with Senate Republicans Overnight Defense: Trump cancels presser, cuts short NATO trip | Viral video catches leaders appearing to gossip about Trump | Dem witnesses say Trump committed impeachable offenses | Trump reportedly mulling more troops in Middle East Trump legal team gears up for Senate impeachment trial in meeting with GOP senators MORE (R-Mo.)*

11. Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrGOP senators request interview with former DNC contractor to probe possible Ukraine ties North Carolina congressman says he won't seek reelection after redistricting Senate passes bipartisan bill to permanently fund historically black colleges MORE (R-N.C.)

12. Sen. Mark KirkMark Steven KirkWhy Republicans are afraid to call a key witness in the impeachment inquiry Ex-Rep. Duffy to join lobbying firm BGR Bottom Line MORE (R-Ill.)

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