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Secretary of defense nominee Chuck Hagel goes before the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday for a much-anticipated confirmation hearing that is expected to be contentious.
Hagel, a former Republican Nebraska senator, will likely face tough questions on issues related to Israel, defense cuts, and his oft-criticized managerial style.
It still remains unclear if Hagel can ultimately garner enough congressional support to win confirmation.
Just one Republican senator has publically endorsed Hagel, according to reports. Many others have said they will vote against Hagel.
Controversy surrounded Hagel before President Barack Obama formally announced his nomination to head the Pentagon.
Lawmakers, national security experts, and Jewish community leaders all expressed reservations about Hagel, who has advocated in favor of cuts to the defense budget and gone on record criticizing Israel while arguing for greater engagement with Iran.
Lawmakers have indicated Hagel may face more than one hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“It’s possible” there could be multiple sessions, Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin (D., Mich.), Defense News quoted him as saying Tuesday. “It depends on how the [Thursday] hearing goes. I just don’t know.”
Hagel’s critics in the Jewish community have argued Hagel is anti-Israel and perhaps even anti-Semitic given controversial comments he once made about the so-called “Jewish lobby.”
“The Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people” on Capitol Hill, Hagel said in a now-infamous 2009 interview with Middle East expert Aaron David Miller.
Longtime Jewish community leaders additionally recalled Hagel’s hostility to Israel and the American Jewish community in general.
The Free Beacon reported in January that during a tumultuous 1989 meeting with Jewish leaders about funding for a USO port in Haifa, Israel, Hagel said, “Let the Jews pay it.”
Hagel served as president and CEO of the World USO from 1987 to 1990.
“He said to me, ‘Let the Jews pay for it’,” Marsha Halteman, director for military and law enforcement programs at the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), told the Free Beacon.
Hagel sought to walk back his most controversial positions on Israel during a meeting late last month with Jewish organization leaders.
Lawmakers are additionally expected to question Hagel about his desire to launch direct unconditional negotiations with Iran, as well as with the terror group Hamas.
Hagel has faced scrutiny for his ties to Iran and its staunchest advocates in Washington, D.C.
Hagel currently sits on the board of Deutsche Bank, which is under investigation for allegedly violating United States sanctions on Iran.
Senators are likely to ask Hagel to explain these ties as well answer for other questionable elements regarding his financial history.
Hagel could face additional inquiries into his relationship with a network of pro-Iran foreign policy groups, many of which have launched media campaigns in recent weeks aimed at bolstering his record.
The Armenian community and various human rights groups have also criticized Hagel for opposing a 2005 congressional resolution officially recognizing Turkey’s genocide of more than one million Armenians.
Defense hawks in the Senate appear most concerned about Hagel’s expressed desire to pare down the Pentagon’s budget, which he has claimed is “bloated.”
“The Defense Department, I think in many ways has been bloated,” Hagel told the Financial Times last year. “So I think the Pentagon needs to be pared down. I don’t think that our military has really looked at themselves strategically, critically, in a long, long time.”
Observers also suspect lawmakers will interrogate Hagel about his ability to effectively manage the Pentagon, which has a very large and complicated bureaucracy.
Those who have worked with Hagel have claimed he could be combative and rude to his staff. These qualities, some argued, should disqualify Hagel from earning the top Pentagon slot.
“Hagel was known for turning over staff every few weeks—within a year’s time he could have an entirely new office because nobody wanted to work for him,” one Congressional source told the Free Beacon in December. “You have to wonder how a man who couldn’t run a Senate office is going to be able to run an entire bureaucracy.”