Hagel Nomination to Face GOP Challenge

BY Christina Bellantoni and Terence Burlij  January 8, 2013 at 9:41 AM EST

photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

President Obama and former Sen. Chuck Hagel at the White House on Monday. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

Time and again Monday, President Obama praised Chuck Hagel’s military service in announcing the former Republican senator from Nebraska and Vietnam War veteran as his choice for secretary of defense.

“Chuck Hagel is the leader that our troops deserve,” Mr. Obama said in an afternoon event at the White House, where he also unveiled counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan as his pick to lead the CIA.

Mr. Obama noted that Hagel had been wounded in Vietnam and saved his brother, who had been injured by a mine.

“With Chuck, our troops will always know, just like Sgt. Hagel was there for his own brother, Secretary Hagel will be there for you,” the president said.

As Mark Landler of the New York Times writes, the statements were aimed at weakening Republican attacks against Hagel:

The president’s message seemed intended in particular for the conservative critics of Mr. Hagel, including Senator John McCain of Arizona, who have warned that he will face a bruising confirmation battle. White House officials said that Republicans, whatever their policy disagreements, would find it difficult to vote against an acknowledged war hero.

Still, GOP reaction to Hagel’s nomination sparked promises of tough questions ahead.

“I have serious concerns about positions Senator Hagel has taken on a range of critical national security issues in recent years, which we will fully consider in the course of his confirmation process before the Senate Armed Services Committee,” McCain said in a statement.

Republicans are certain to explore Hagel’s past statements about Israel and his votes against imposing unilateral sanctions on Iran when he comes before the committee for his nomination hearing.

Hagel sought to quell some of those charges in advance, telling the Lincoln Journal Star that critics have “completely distorted” his record on those matters.

Hagel said that prior to Monday’s announcement he had been “hanging out there in no-man’s land unable to respond to charges, falsehoods and distortions.”

On Israel, he said there was “not one shred of evidence that I’m anti-Israeli, not one (Senate) vote that matters that hurt Israel.”

He also defended his opposition to unilateral sanctions toward Iran, contending that measures implemented by the United Nations were working and that a U.S.-only approach would have isolated the country.

“I fully recognize that confirmation is up to the Senate. All I ask is a fair hearing, and I will get that. I am very much looking forward to having a full, open, transparent hearing about my qualifications and my record,” Hagel told the paper. “All I look for is an opportunity to respond.”

Mr. Obama seemed to acknowledge that it would not be entirely smooth sailing for Hagel, but he made the case that the Republican would bring a unique perspective to the Pentagon.

“Chuck represents the bipartisan tradition that we need more of in Washington,” Mr. Obama said. “For his independence and commitment to consensus, he’s earned the respect of national security and military leaders, Republicans and Democrats — including me. In the Senate, I came to admire his courage and his judgment, his willingness to speak his mind — even if it wasn’t popular, even if it defied the conventional wisdom.”

The New York Times has a roundup of the various reactions to the Hagel nomination from elected officials and national security leaders.

The Washington Post, meanwhile, has a running whip count of members on the Senate Armed Services Committee who will be first up to consider Hagel’s nomination.

Eli Lake reports in the Daily Beast that the powerful conservative-leaning AIPAC will sit out the nomination fight.

As for Brennan’s nomination, our report featured archival footage of him telling Margaret Warner why he has defended rendition — the practice of sending terror suspects to countries where they might be subject to torture.

“I think it’s an absolutely vital tool. I have been intimately familiar now in the past decade with the cases of rendition that the U.S. government has been involved in,” he said in 2005. “And I can say without a doubt that it has been very successful as far as producing intelligence that has saved lives.”

Gwen Ifill followed that report with a discussion featuring Jessica Tuchman Mathews of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Reuel Gerecht, a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, exploring what Mr. Obama’s choices mean for his national security priorities in his second term.

Watch the discussion here or below:


CONSERVATIVES TESTING POWER AHEAD OF DEBT SHOWDOWN

With the fiscal cliff compromise one week in the rear-view mirror, some fiscal conservatives in Congress are itching for the next fight. As Mr. Obama insists that the debt ceiling must cease being a bargaining tool — arguing it’s money the nation already has spent, so cutting spending doesn’t change the need to keep increasing it — this contingent sees it as a way to force big change.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, wrote Friday that he sees a “partial” government shutdown as one way “to secure the long-term fiscal well being of our country.”

On Monday’s NewsHour, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas told Judy Woodruff that he would accept the idea of a “partial” shutdown if it meant restoring fiscal sanity. The freshman lawmaker pointed out that’s what happened in 1995.

“[S]ome of the greatest fiscal responsibility we have seen in modern times from Congress, because fiscal conservatives stood together and said, we need to be responsible,” Cruz said.

He made clear that he will stake out ground on that turf in an attempt to push his party to stop negotiating with the president and get more of what it wants.

Watch the interview here or below:


(Our series with newly elected senators is here.)

Politico’s Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen have a piece Tuesday looking at Rep. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and how he is representative of a newly strengthened contingent of House Republicans. From the piece:

You also need to understand how Cotton and most House Republicans see the politics of the moment — and the incentives they respond to. Many are young and have seen victory only in vowing to fight for massive reductions in government, both in spending and intrusion into gun ownership and other matters. They think the mainstream media are full of it when they talk up compromise and balanced approaches that include more taxes or government. “We went from deep in the wilderness in 2009 to the biggest election in 80 years for Republicans by focusing on debt and on Obamacare,” Cotton said.

This is bad news for Obama and anyone else dreaming of compromises on entitlement reform, guns and immigration in the year ahead. It is also bad news for those Republicans who want to reposition the party before the 2016 election. The vast majority of House Republicans are opposed to any new spending, willing to risk default to force spending cuts, dismissive of new gun laws and deeply skeptical about immigration reform.

As we noted Monday, it’s not clear if House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, can rein in trouble-making members of his caucus or whether he will join them in fighting the White House, but consider a fundraising email sent Monday by Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, who voted against keeping Boehner as speaker in what he called a “bold step” last week.

“After two years of establishment leadership, it is time for someone who will fight for our conservative principles,” he wrote to his supporters. He said he “will not be intimidated” and that he is “tired of Republicans who compromise with Obama – and actually help pass tax increases with Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.” He asked for donations of $35 to help fight any retaliation.

Expect a lot more of this from tea party members in the House in the coming weeks, and as Steven Dennis and Meredith Shiner write Tuesday in Roll Call, one side eventually is going to have to blink.

LINE ITEMS

  • Richard Ben Cramer, author of “What It Takes,” the 1,047-page masterpiece about the 1988 presidential campaign, died Monday evening of complications from lung cancer. Jonathan Martin of Politico pens this appreciation of Cramer. BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith also pays homage to the writer.

  • Bloomberg’s Hans Nichols reports Monday that Mr. Obama is “close to choosing” Jack Lew for secretary of the treasury. Possible replacements for White House chief of staff include deputy national security adviser Denis McDonough and Ron Klain, who has served as Vice President Biden’s chief of staff.

  • Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Monday that he “misspoke” when he commented last Friday that the damage inflicted by super-storm Sandy was worse than Hurricane Katrina’s.

  • Add Idaho to the list of states with Republican governors who want to opt out of the Medicaid portion of the Affordable Care Act.

  • Mr. Obama’s male-dominated nominee field is getting some attention.

  • Medgar Evers’ widow will deliver the invocation at the inauguration.

  • Stu Rothenberg opines on the special election for Massachusetts’ Senate seat.

  • Roll Call’s Kyle Trygstad suggests that nasty primaries might be ahead in Hawaii.

  • Former Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz., and her husband Mark Kelly have started a PAC that will work for gun violence prevention. It’s called Americans for Responsible Solutions.

  • This 300-pound, steel Mitt Romney campaign sign from Iowa needs a home. The Craigslist seller is offering it for free. The NewsHour last spotted said sign in the lobby of a campaign office in Urbandale, outside Des Moines, in early October.

  • No date has been set for former President George H.W. Bush to leave Methodist Hospital in Houston, where he has been in care since the day after Thanksgiving. But he is happy the Houston Texans advanced to the next round of the NFL playoffs.

  • Paul Krugman does not want to be treasury secretary — or at least thinks it’s a “really bad idea” after Danny Glover and an online petition suggested him for the role.

  • The Supreme Court has scheduled arguments for the same-sex marriage cases. The challenge to California’s Proposition 8 will be heard March 26. The federal Defense of Marriage Act challenge will be on March 27. Revisit the NewsHour’s segment with Marcia Coyle about the court accepting these cases here.

  • The Associated Press provides the complete inauguration style guide. (That’s grammar and punctuation, not fashion.)

  • Hari Sreenivasan made a cameo on Monday’s episode of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” during a bit regarding the Hurricane Sandy relief bill in Congress. Check him out at about the 1:30 mark.

  • The Internet was abuzz Monday with talk of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who returned to work after recovering from a concussion and subsequent blood clot in her head. Here are photos of the gifts/protective gear/seasonally appropriate sportswear that department staff presented her. And fascinating graphs from Buzzfeed and the Washington Post about the secretary’s travels.

  • Tuesday’s tidbit from NewsHour partner Face the Facts USA looks at the Clean Air Act: Lead is down 83 percent since 1990; sulfur dioxide, down 75 percent; and carbon monoxide, down 73 percent.

NEWSHOUR ROUNDUP

  • The nation’s bank will pay $8.5 billion to homeowners affected by foreclosures because of a settlement. Guy Cecala of research publication “Inside Mortgage Finance” and Diane Thompson of the National Consumer Law Center joined Margaret Warner on Monday to explain. Here’s the segment.

  • Health Affairs editor Susan Dentzer explained why U.S. health care has grown.

  • NewsHour science blogger Jenny Marder gets to know vultures in the our “Lunch in the Lab” feature.

  • Desk assistant Jessica Fink rounds up facts and figures about the new Congress.

TOP TWEETS

Katelyn Polantz contributed to this report.

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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

Follow the politics team on Twitter: @cbellantoni, @burlij, @elizsummers, @kpolantz, @indiefilmfan, @tiffanymullon, @dePeystah, @meenaganesan and @abbruns.