It is no mystery what happened. As I reported this morning, the letter from Chuck Hagel to Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) trying to pretty up his record was so haphazardly done and so poorly received that the White House had to do something. So the Hagel handlers prevailed upon Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) not to wait to voice a view informed by the confirmation hearings as he previously said he would do, but to rush forth with a partial nod after a meeting with Hagel. He didn’t say how Hagel cleared up his record or what he possibly could have done to explain such slurs as his declaration he is not the senator for Israel.
But Schumer feels better, he now tells us. Bill Kristol calls this a “cheap date” but it is also a reckless move that may come back to haunt Schumer, one that may have arisen from the cowering behavior of some organized Jewish “leaders.” Take the Orthodox Union, a prominent group in the Northeast with many New York constituents. That organization’s leadership has been hiding under the proverbial desk. Even now all its executive director would say is that he had no comment “at this time.” (Ever?)
So maybe Schumer figured this is an easy give to the White House and he can afford to drop his “guard” duty for Israel. ( “He repeats ad nauseam that his name derives from the Hebrew word “shomer” (guard).”) But wait. Schumer here risks stepping out (or being pushed out) too soon, and opening the door to potential rivals to seize the mantle of sober leadership on the Middle East. A longtime Democratic operative with a pro-Israel group told me he was surprised Schumer got pushed out so soon given how numerous the issues about Hagel’s record and comments are. “When you have a series of these death bed — confirmation bed — conversions you really have to wait for the hearings. His [Hagel’s] veracity is yet to be tested.”
Both Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Ben Cardin (D – Md.) are serious foreign policy lawmakers and both have voiced concerns about Hagel. If they decide the Hagel confirmation conversion is a crock and his record is in fact out of the bipartisan mainstream on Iran, Israel and other issues, that leaves Schumer with egg on his face. In a vote as key as this he may well forfeit his self-appointed role as the great friend of Israel. In exchange for carrying the White House water, he permanently damages his stature not to mention his political standing with many constituents, who unlike the Orthodox Union are incensed by the prospect of Hagel at the Pentagon.
At any rate Schumer will need a new spiel. No one in their right mind is going to buy his “shomer” line now.