How Chuck Schumer can make or break Chuck Hagel

January 14, 2013

By the end of this week, it will almost certainly be clear whether Chuck Hagel will be the country's next secretary of defense.

Here's why: Hagel is expected to sit down with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) this week in what amounts to a sort of make-or-break moment for the Nebraska Republican's chances at leading the Pentagon in President Obama's second term.

Schumer, the third-ranking Democrat in the Senate, has been decidedly lukewarm on Hagel since the idea of his former Senate colleague leading the Pentagon was floated. Asked by "Meet the Press" host David Gregory about the idea just before Christmas, Schumer responded thusly: "I'd have to study his record. I'm not going to comment until the president makes a nomination." Yikes.

Schumer's main issues with Hagel center on the Nebraskan's past comments about Israel, the "Jewish lobby" and his opposition to Iran sanctions during his time in the Senate. (ABC has done a good breakdown of Hagel's votes on Iran sanctions here.)

What seems abundantly clear is that if Schumer could make his decision on Hagel in a political vacuum, he would probably vote no. But he can't. Schumer is widely regarded as the next leader of Senate Democrats and, as such, his opinion matters a great deal. If Schumer signaled that he would vote no, it would give cover for other Democrats to follow suit -- a domino effect that almost certainly would destroy Hagel's chances.

Schumer, of course, knows that. And he doesn't want to own the defeat of (and blame for) a Cabinet nominee put forward at the cusp of Obama's second term. So, if personally Schumer has reason to oppose Hagel, politically he has every reason to support him.

Schumer, being one of the smartest strategists in the Senate, understands that he likely holds Hagel's fate in his hands. Given those stakes, our (educated) guess is that if Hagel is apologetic about some of his past statements during his meeting with Schumer, the New York Democrat will find a way to say yes.

Regardless of where he ends up, make no mistake: Chuck Schumer is the decider on the fate of Chuck Hagel's nomination.

Corker questions Hagel's 'temperament': The GOP opposition to Chuck Hagel's nomination continues to build, with Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) suggesting Sunday that Hagel doesn't have the right "temperament" for the job.

"I think another thing ... that’s going to come up is just his overall temperament, and is he suited to run a department or a big agency or a big entity like the Pentagon,” Corker said on ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos.”

Corker said former Hagel staffers have come forward alleging mistreatment by the former senator.

The White House told Politico that Corker's remarks represent a "new low" for the GOP.

But Republicans point out that Hagel once questioned the temperament of John Bolton, who in 2005 was being nominated to be ambassador to the United Nations. Bolton had been accused of mistreating a Hagel aide.

"Now, the allegation itself, it is a disturbing pattern of things that have come out about Bolton's management style, this intimidation," Hagel said at the time. "We cannot have that at the United Nations. That should not be anywhere in our government."

Fixbits:

The trillion dollar coin ain't happening, says the Treasury Department.

Paul Krugman, a proponent of the trillion dollar coin, criticizes Jon Stewart's coverage of it.

Colin Powell says Hagel is "superbly qualified" to be Secretary of Defense.

Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), says he's "not comfortable yet" with voting to confirm Hagel.

Illinois's state GOP chairman is under fire for supporting the state's gay marriage push.

NRA president David Keene says an assault weapons ban wouldn't pass in the current Congress. And Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) agrees, saying it must be part of a larger package.

Cory Booker isn't ruling out a primary challenge to Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.).

Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) and Secretary of State Natalie Tennant (D) are both looking at running for Senate now that Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) is retiring.

Sen. Rand Paul's (R-Ky.) son, who was arrested recently at Charlotte's airport, has been charged with assaulting a flight attendant.

Gregory will not be charged for using a high-capacity ammunition clip as a prop on his show. Such clips are prohibited in the District of Columbia.

Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder (R) offers this doozy: "'Assault weapons' is a misused term used by suburban soccer moms who do not understand what is being discussed here." Kinder is running in the special election for former congresswoman Jo Ann Emerson's (R-Mo.) seat.

Must-reads:

"How NRA’s true believers converted a marksmanship group into a mighty gun lobby" -- Joel Achenbach, Scott Higham and Sari Horwitz, Washington Post

"The House GOP can’t be beat: It’s worse than gerrymandering" -- Rob Richie and Devin McCarthy, Salon

"Obama Will Seek Citizenship Path in One Fast Push" -- Julia Preston, New York Times

"U.S. Debate on Gun Laws Is Put to a Test in Colorado" -- Jack Healy and Dan Frosch, New York Times

"Bloomberg wants to change the GOP" -- Jason Horowitz, Washington Post

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Sean Sullivan · January 13, 2013