As we noted yesterday, the anybody-but-Chuck-Hagel buzz is growing louder. Part of this is no doubt attributable to nervous Democrats. One Democratic insider seemed beside himself. He told me Tuesday night, “Democratic stalwarts are starting to ask if there aren’t any qualified Democrats for the Defense job – dare one ask even a woman, now that Hillary [Clinton] is leaving and Susan [Rice] got blocked – who don’t have the baggage that [Chuck] Hagel comes with. Why put Democratic senators in a politically vulnerable position and force them to walk the plank on Hagel?”
In fact, the assumption that Hagel could sail through because of Senate collegiality seems to be ill-founded. Roll Call reports:
Several senators said Tuesday that the former Nebraska senator would face tough questions in a confirmation hearing on past statements about Israel and broader Middle East policy that critics say reflect an anti-Israel bias and a more hands-off approach to the Middle East than many hawks prefer.
Hagel, said Senate Armed Services Committee member Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., will “have to answer questions about why he thought it was a good idea to directly negotiate with Hamas and why he objected to the European Union declaring Hezbollah a terrorist organization.”
However, Graham said he would not oppose a Hagel nomination right out of the gate. “I want to listen to what he has to say because I like Chuck, he’s been a friend. He has a stellar military record,” said Graham. “But I think these comments disturb a lot of people and he’ll have to answer those questions.”
“A lot of times,” Graham added, “hearings are just for show.” But a Hagel nomination hearing “will really matter,” he said. . . .
“Sen. Hagel is a friend of mine, he was a fine senator. I know him well from having served with him,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which would oversee Hagel’s confirmation hearing.
“I am concerned about some of his statements on Iran and Hamas and Israel,” said Collins. “I’m sure that those issues will be explored in the nomination hearing, should he be nominated.”
“Chuck’s going to get asked some very tough questions, but Chuck’s a big boy and he knows what he is getting into,” said another Armed Services panelist, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.
In other words, if part of the “sell” for Hagel was his Republican credentials, it seems he won’t be earning the president any brownie points. (It’s sort of like appointing Charlie Crist to a Cabinet post and hoping to get credit for picking a former Republican.)
Meanwhile, it remains a puzzle why Michele Flournoy has not been the frontrunner all along. The Post editorial board put it this way: ” What’s certain is that Mr. Obama has available other possible nominees who are considerably closer to the mainstream and to the president’s first-term policies. Former undersecretary of defense Michele Flournoy, for example, is a seasoned policymaker who understands how to manage the Pentagon bureaucracy and where responsible cuts can be made. She would bring welcome diversity as the nation’s first female defense secretary.”
As for the diversity argument, it would be peculiar, to say the least, if Obama (who won re-election on the strength of his support from women voters) had not a single female senior Cabinet member (State, Defense, Treasury, Justice) in his second term. After ridiculing his opponent for using “binders of women” to identify qualified advisers, it would be ironic if Obama didn’t even bother to make the effort after he figured out Susan Rice wasn’t his best pick for State.