The Chuck Hagel nomination due to be announced at 1 p.m. is playing out in predictable fashion. When Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) was leaving the House he bashed the nomination; now that he wants a Senate appointment he’s cool with it. Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) dutifully lined up behind the pick but New York, New Jersey and other big state Democrats held their tongues. But you couldn’t miss the hoof beats of the forces lining up against the nomination.
Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League went on TV this morning to throw cold water on the pick: “Senator Hagel will have an opportunity to explain, to convince, to reassure the American people that some of the positions which he has taken are either not his positions now or that they may have been misunderstood. but unless he does that convincingly I am not, I am not convinced.” On Hagel’s comments regarding American Jews he pointed to the elephant in the room:
Here’s a man who has been in Washington, who lives with interest groups. why single out the Israel interest group lobbying in such an aggressive way? So if an American congressman or senator urges for a special relationship with Israel, does that make him a Senator from Israel? I find the words troubling. I find the attitude, what I would call the gestalt, troubling, since the support of Israel has been frequently been spotty or tepid and I’m looking for a clear explanation . . . Why is this the only lobby that he finds so distressing and troubling in a city where lobbies are part of the American system?
However, the ADL put out a written statement from Foxman that began this way: “Senator Hagel would not have been my first choice, but I respect the President’s prerogative.” So even the ADL (or maybe its staff) is trying to walk carefully.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who has been heavily supported by many of the same Hollywood Dems who support the president, was cautious in a TV appearance: “I think that Chuck Hagel is going to be a challenging choice in the terms of the confirmation process. Clearly, a combat vet, well regarded. I mean, the man has shrapnel still in his chest. Will be very helpful in terms of the drawdown in Afghanistan. At the same time, legitimate questions about Iran, about Israel, a lot of concern, legitimate concern over the comments he made about Hormel. So, he has a lot of serious questions to answer, and looks like a challenging couple of months ahead of us.” Not exactly what the White House and congressional Democrats wanted, I imagine.
Meanwhile, no Republican senator has yet come out to support him. If the hearings becoming a feeding frenzy with GOP senators nailing Hagel on his views and past comments, plenty of Democrats have left themselves room to walk away (and can probably count on the White House to pull him).
But for now it is patently obvious which is the most pro-Israel party of the two national parties and which party is confident it can take Jewish voters and donors for granted. Pro-Jewish organizations like the American Jewish Committee and the conservative Emergency Committee for Israel activists are gearing up to wage a public relations campaign against Hagel. The Log Cabin Republicans gay rights group has already taken out a full-page ad against him. It is a fight Senate Democrats surely would rather not be having, but they are having it nonetheless.