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How Republican resistance has hurt Chuck Hagel (and why it probably doesn’t matter)

Senate Republicans have made life very difficult for Chuck Hagel over the past few weeks. While he's nonetheless on the verge of being confirmed as the next defense secretary, his image has taken some clear hits.

A new Pew Research Center poll released Wednesday shows that while half of Americans still don't have an opinion of the former Republican senator from Nebraska, among those who do, Hagel's favorability is now under water, and the the percentage holding a very unfavorable opinion of Hagel has nearly doubled in the past month:

(Source: Pew Research Center)
(Pew Research Center)

As the chart above shows, a month ago, Americans who had an opinion of Hagel were split in the way they viewed him. What's happened since that time? A bruising confirmation hearing in which Hagel struggled, an historic GOP filibuster and a steady stream of criticism from Republican senators over Hagel's positions on Israel and Iran, among other things.

It's all clearly taken a toll on President Obama's choice to head the Pentagon. But two things are clear. One, barring some unexpected developments, Hagel is going to be confirmed by the Senate later this month. Even as Republicans continue to oppose him, they've made clear that they are willing to clear the way for an up or down vote, which will assure passage in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Second, while Hagel's numbers aren't great, once he is confirmed, the story of his difficult path to the Pentagon will likely fade into the background in the 24-hour news cycle where narratives are quickly replaced. What's more, a defense secretary's political standing is not nearly as consequential as, say, a president's. Hagel, if confirmed, will become a part of a team that, in the end, reports to Obama. And the president's standing is ultimately most important when it comes to garnering support for major national security and foreign policy decisions.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.



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