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Hagel’s path to confirmation clears, but hearings loom

Sen. Charles Schumer's (D-N.Y.) decision to support Chuck Hagel's nomination for Secretary of Defense means the job is now Hagel's for the taking — provided he can avoid a major screw-up at his confirmation hearings.

Schumer's announcement Tuesday that he intended to support Hagel's nomination — after some initial hesitation — signals that Senate Democrats will likely be united in support of President Obama's nominee to head the Pentagon.

President Obama nominated former Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense and John O. Brennan to be director of the CIA on Monday. (The Washington Post)

Schumer, as we've written before, was the most important Democrat in this whole process, given his pro-Israel record and his stature as a party leader. And his support means Hagel has cleared a major hurdle, with other Democrats now likely to feel more comfortable supporting him.

Republicans acknowledged after Schumer's announcement that they would have to be almost completely united in their opposition if they want to take Hagel down.

But that becomes much harder without some Democrats joining in opposition.

Democrats have 55 votes in the Senate, which means that with a unified caucus they would need to pick off just five Republicans to overcome a filibuster. That seems pretty doable even in a chamber in which Hagel has alienated many of his former GOP colleagues.

From here, all of this depends very much on how the confirmation hearings go. Even Schumer seemed to temper his support for Hagel a little by saying he is "currently prepared" to vote for him.

"While the Senate confirmation process must be allowed to run its course, it is my hope that Senator Hagel’s thorough explanations will remove any lingering controversy regarding his nomination," Schumer said.

We don't mean to say that Schumer isn't on-board, just that hearings matter and Hagel will need to be on his game. And other Democrats, including Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), have expressed significant concerns about Hagel, so he hasn't locked down all Democrats just yet.

But it seems only a matter of time before these Democrats join Schumer in support, and at this point, the GOP base isn't overwhelmingly anti-Hagel. About the only thing that could change either of those is a major hiccup at his confirmation hearings.

But if Hagel can clear the bar, it will be very difficult (politically) for Republicans to stand in his way.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.



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Aaron Blake · January 15, 2013

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