Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), the Republican whip, told me in a phone interview this morning he would oppose the nomination of Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense: “I can’t support a Hagel nomination if it comes,” he said. He is the first senator to expressly state he would oppose Hagel. He told me he thinks there would be substantial opposition to Hagel on both sides of the aisle. “I’ve heard prominent Democrats concerned about his position on Israel. Many Republican have said they did not want to prejudge. But it would be a bad move and one of the reasons I’ve taken the position [to oppose]. ‘Mr. President don’t do that. It would be a bad nomination.’”
Cornyn obviously was well-versed in Hagel’s record. He methodically ticked through a list of concerns he had, pointing to positions Hagel has consistently taken over the years. “There are some points about his record that make him unacceptable.”
He explained, “America is the indispensable power for peace in the world.” He then explained why Hagel would undermine that premise.
“He appears to believe [a nuclear-armed] Iran can be contained. [ Defense Secretary Leon] Panetta and the president have said a nuclear weapon is a red line. He’s not even consistent with the secretary of defense and the administration.”
He pointed to another statement Hagel made in 2010. “He said he wouldn’t support all options being on the table.” This is also inconsistent with the president’s position. Cornyn asked rhetorically, “How does it help to tell Iran that?”
Cornyn referred to Hagel’s support for a group that favors elimination of all nuclear weapons: “On the issue of nuclear weapons he’s embraced Global Zero. It strikes me as particularly naive … To have a secretary of Defense who believes all nuclear weapons should be eliminated is . . . well, just over the top.”
Cornyn also cited Hagel’s vote against designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization in 2007. And he said, “He favors direct negotiations with Hamas. That is beyond the pale.”
Cornyn also objected to Hagel’s remark in 2009 that “I’m not sure we know what the hell we are doing in Afghanistan.” (Although Cornyn did not cite it specifically, Hagel also remarked in 2011 that the U.S. “lost our purpose, our objective” in Afghanistan.) Cornyn criticized the failure in Iraq to obtain a status of forces agreement that puts our gains at risk, arguing that Hagel would do the same in Afghanistan. He argued that “it appears to me his position in Afghanistan after all we’ve invested, all the blood we’ve spilled” would leave the country in disarray and right back where it was before the Sept. 11 attacks.
In addition, Cornyn took strong issue with Hagel on defense sequestration. “He basically believes the Defense Department can sustain the sort of Draconian cuts contained in sequestration — something Leon Panetta has said would be debilitating.”
Cornyn was adamant: “It is not just an isolated problem … It is a consistent position in support of American weakness.” Cornyn is not only a prominent senator and a member of the Armed Service Committee that would have to confirm the next secretary of defense, but he is also the GOP whip. Thus it is unlikely that a Hagel nomination could obtain 60 votes for cloture and confirmation. Moreover, now that such a prominent figure has spoken out, other senators are likely to follow.