The effort to vilify Hagel and his record, which began when his name was first floated for the job in December, has remained at a buzz but has not reached the type of crescendo that has doomed high-profile political nominations in the past.
“We’ve had a very aggressive strategy for tackling some of the issues that have been raised,” the Hagel aide said Wednesday, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the nominee’s outlook. “I think we’re in a good place.”
That’s not to say Hagel’s confirmation is a forgone conclusion, supporters concede. Critics have piled onto the initial critiques with charges that Hagel’s ties to defense contractors and other private-sector firms may create conflicts of interest. They also have criticized his support for a global movement to eliminate nuclear weapons.
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Hagel will face tough questions about his past statements. Democrats outnumber Republicans on the panel 14 to 12, but committee insiders say they are not assuming that Hagel will get the vote of every Democrat.
“The confirmation will not be an easy one,” Levin said in a recent interview. “On the other hand, a lot of people who have worked with Hagel remember him as someone who was effective here, involved in foreign affairs, well-qualified.”
Hagel, 66, a Vietnam veteran, is counting on those bonds, the aide said.
“If you read the tea leaves, I think he might get more Republican votes than people might think,” the official said. “Those relationships are important.”
After Thursday’s hearing, senators can submit additional written questions to Hagel. The committee and the full Senate could vote next week.
Hagel’s opening remarks will offer a blunt rebuttal to his critics, including conservative groups formed to foil his nomination. The official helping Hagel prepare said he also intends to offer a clear-eyed view of the Pentagon’s fiscal challenges, convey his commitment to preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons and voice strong support for the U.S. alliance with Israel.
Opposition from gay rights advocates over disparaging remarks Hagel made in 1998 about an openly gay man nominated for an ambassadorship has largely subsided. James Hormel, the former diplomat Hagel disparaged as “aggressively gay,” endorsed him this week, saying he believes that Hagel’s views have evolved. Hagel has said he is committed to expanding benefits to same-sex military couples.