One is traditional senatorial courtesy, which has almost always meant a relatively smooth confirmation process for any current or former senator chosen for a Cabinet or ambassadorial post.
More important, almost every failed nomination of the past three decades has stemmed from key defections within the president’s own party, and so far Hagel’s opposition has come almost entirely from fellow Republicans.
The prospect of significant Democratic defections grew more unlikely Tuesday when a pair of influential Senate Democrats who had been cagey about their support for Hagel came out in support of his confirmation. Many of Hagel’s critics accused him of being hostile to Israel’s interests. But on Tuesday, Sens. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) and Barbara Boxer (Calif.), two of the most influential Jewish Democrats, issued lengthy testimonials to Hagel’s credentials to lead the Pentagon and accepted his assurances that he would support the Obama administration’s policy of vigorously opposing Iran’s bid to obtain nuclear weapons.
“Senator Hagel could not have been more forthcoming and sincere,” Schumer said Tuesday in a 676-word statement that covered every possible controversy of Hagel’s nomination. “Based on several key assurances provided by Senator Hagel, I am currently prepared to vote for his confirmation. I encourage my Senate colleagues who have shared my previous concerns to also support him.”
“I needed comprehensive answers,” Boxer told reporters Tuesday in a conference call, explaining that she demanded that Hagel follow up their phone discussion with a letter documenting his answers on Israel and Iran as well as issues related to gay rights and female soldiers’ access to reproductive services.
Hagel’s confirmation is still not a certainty. He has only just begun the traditional process of making the rounds for face-to-face meetings with key senators, and on Tuesday the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee announced his opposition.
“Unfortunately, as I told him during our meeting [Tuesday], we are simply too philosophically opposed on the issues for me to support his nomination,” said Sen. James M. Inhofe (Okla.). Inhofe said he was concerned about looming Pentagon spending cuts: “Senator Hagel’s comments have not demonstrated that same level of concern about the pending defense cuts.”
The committee has yet to schedule a confirmation hearing, which is certain to be a lengthy session that could resemble the combative queries that former senator John D. Ashcroft (R-Mo.) faced in January 2001 after he was nominated as attorney general.
Ashcroft’s confirmation hearings, fueled by questions about racial sensitivity, lasted three days, unusually long for a former senator.