When President Obama formally nominates Chuck Hagel to be the next Secretary of Defense later today, he can be certain of one thing: The former Nebraska Republican Senator will face a major fight to win confirmation.
In conversations with a handful of current and former Senate aides — of both parties — over the weekend, there was almost uniform agreement that Hagel faces a rocky road to confirmation although none were willing to predict that he won’t make the finish line.
The focus at the moment is on the Republican opposition to Hagel, opposition built around not simply his policy stances on Iran and Iraq, but also on his decision to, in their eyes, abandon the GOP once he left office.
“He basically doesn’t have a single Senate Republican friend who served with him,” said one senior GOP Senate aide granted anonymity to speak candidly. The source added that Hagel had not only given cover to Democrats on a number of high-profile issues but that he had also badly alienated his colleagues with his strong endorsement of former Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey in the 2012 Nebraska Senate race.
“Some Senate Republicans are still livid at his support for Bob Kerrey,” acknowledged a senior Democratic with long ties to the Senate. “I think that’s the real rub.”
While the Republican opposition to Hagel has drawn most of the headlines to date, however, the real danger to Obama’s pick to lead the Pentagon is from within the President’s own party. Past failed nominees — both for Cabinet posts and Supreme Court — have largely been done in not by the political opposition but rather by their own side. (See Miers, Harriet.)
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