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Senior lawmakers and political experts on Sunday slammed the prospective nomination of former Republican Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel to head the defense department.
Hagel, who is rumored to be on President Barack Obama’s shortlist to head the Pentagon, has faced sharp criticism from across the foreign policy spectrum for what observers say are his dangerous views, which some have characterized as anti-Israel.
Opposition to Hagel sprung from both Democratic and Republican circles on Sunday, signaling that the potential nominee could face a nearly impossible confirmation process on Capitol Hill.
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I., Conn.) suggested that Hagel’s desire to negotiate one-on-one with Iran raise questions relevant to his serving in the nation’s top defense post.
“If I were in the senate on the armed services committee and he was nominated, I would have some really serious questions to ask him,” Lieberman said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “Not just about Israel, but to me, the most significant foreign policy challenge for President Obama and our country and the world in the next year or two is Iran and it’s nuclear weapons program. Chuck Hagel has had some very outlying votes on that.”
Hagel’s desire to reduce economic sanctions on Iran are misguided and run counter to even the Obama administration’s stated policies, Lieberman said.
“I think in that sense anybody who tries to communicate with Iran has run into a brick wall, and Chuck Hagel has consistently been against economic sanctions to try to change the behavior of the Islamic regime, the radical regime in Tehran, which is the only way to do it short of war,” Lieberman said.
“So, in fact, as I look at Chuck Hagel’s positions on Iran, they seem to me to be quite different than president Obama,” he said.
These views are likely to lead to “a very tough confirmation process,” Lieberman said. “I don’t know how it would end, but there are reasonable questions to ask and that Chuck Hagel has to answer.”
Even Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) declined to endorse Hagel during an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Hagel’s “record will be studied carefully,” Schumer said in response to moderator David Gregory.
Pressed on whether he would back Hagel should Obama nominate him, Schumer demurred.
“I’d have to study his record,” Schumer said. “I’m not going to comment until the president makes a nomination.”
Sen. Lindsay Graham (R., S.C.) offered more pointed comments during the same program, suggesting that a Hagel nomination would not garner support from most Republicans.
“I don’t think he’s going to get many republicans votes,” Graham said. “I like Chuck but his positions are really out of the mainstream and well to the left of the president.”
“I think it would be a challenging nominations but the hearings will matter,” he added. “Chuck will have a chance to defend himself.”
NBC host Andrea Mitchell later called Schumer’s comments “revealing” and said that they could indicate major opposition to the pick.
“What Sen. Schumer said was really very revealing,” Mitchell said. “If a Democratic Senator is not going to come to Chuck Hagel’s defense, I think there [are] serious problems there.”
The Weekly Standard’s William Kristol also predicted that a Hagel nomination would fail.
“Sen. Hagel either will not be nominated or won’t be confirmed,” Kristol said on “Fox News Sunday.” “The conceit in the Obama white house was well he’s a Republican so Republicans will go for him. He was a Republican senator, but on foreign policy issues… he has been way to the left of President Obama.”
Kristol also said that Hagel’s comments about the so-called “Jewish lobby” should flatly disqualify him from a position in the Obama administration.
“He talked about the Jewish lobby in 2006,” Kristol said, noting that if a Republican president nominated such a person, the opposition would be insurmountable.
“For a Republican president to nominate someone who said the Jewish lobby has too much influence on Capitol Hill, would that person be thought appropriate to be sec of defense?”
Kristol sits on the board of the Center for American Freedom.
Jewish Democratic Rep. Elliot Engel (N.Y.) surprised observers when he expressed alarm at the possible nomination of Hagel during an appearance on C-SPAN.
“I haven’t come out in support or opposition [of a Hagel nomination], I would have trouble with it,” Engel said. “I think there are warning bells and red signals that I would hope that the president would look at.”
“I don’t do the appointing, the president does. If I were doing the appointing, I would not appoint Chuck Hagel,” he went on to say.
Hagel has also been panned by some longtime colleagues who claim that his lacks the managerial expertise to effectively manage the Pentagon’s bureaucracy.