Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday, former Senator Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) could be forgiven for thinking that opponents to his nomination for secretary of defense have been springing seemingly from thin air. Some groups, like Americans for a Strong Defense, the American Future Fund, and the Emergency Committee for Israel, are cooperating with anonymous donors to put direct pressure on Democratic Senators facing reelection in 2014 to oppose his nomination.
Others are acting through shell organizations like Use Your Mandate, a supposed gay rights group that is somehow extremely well-connected with conservative activists, to throw confusion among politicians over just where people stand. By spending millions on awareness and mobilization efforts around the country, activists have raised the level of contention surrounding executive appointments to a new level. And that’s not even considering the growing concern amongst liberal environmental activists that Hagel would let efforts to reduce the Pentagon’s energy footprint languish, contradicting the president’s own goals on improving the environment.
However, the effort is no match for the Obama administration’s outreach to Congress, which has essentially secured the Senate’s consent.
While conservative operatives have been founding more secretive interest groups, the president and Hagel have been courting Senators and stakeholders for weeks. Although he had already won the support of Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va) of the Armed Services Committee, and Chris Coons (D-Del.), of the Foreign Relations Committee, Hagel also spoke with Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), a pro-Israel hawk to cover that flank. He assured Schumer of his commitment to defeating Iran’s attempts to secure nuclear weapons, not negotiating with Hamas, and punishing Hezbollah for engaging in terrorism. By winning over Schumer, and subsequently Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Hagel has solidified his support among Senate Democrats’ national security leaders.
The Obama administration has also tried to eliminate any objections senators might have of Hagel one by one. They won the support of outside experts like former General Stanley McChrystal, former CIA Director Michael Hayden, and Jewish groups like J Street, while Hagel has renounced his past views on gays serving in the military. Hagel also pledged to resign from the board of Chevron (and many others) and to sell any stock he owns that could create a conflict of interest in running the Pentagon. Soon there will be little reason to oppose Hagel except out of sheer spite, although that hasn’t stopped the likes of Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who won’t back Hagel unless he gets yet another hearing on the Benghazi attack last year.
This just goes to show that a full court press using all the leverages of persuasion possible can win big on the Hill and that Obama was wise in pursuing the fight. Chuck Hagel and President Obama have done just about everything they can to swing things their way, and when Hagel’s nomination is favorably reported out of the Armed Services committee he will have plenty of cover to survive a full Senate vote.