Former Senator from Nebraska, Chuck Hagel (R) has generated a lot of chatter in the political sense. He has gotten a full endorsement from Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Carl Levin (D-MI), Democratic Senators with strong ties to Jewish communities, as well as Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ).
He has gotten unequivocal rejection from James Inhofe (R-OK), the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee. John McCain (R-AZ) has suggested he will wait until the confirmation hearing and allow Hagel to answer the lingering questions about his positions.
Some of the issues that Hagel is expected to respond to are:
1. Hagel participated in an advocacy group, Global Zero, that calls for an 80% reduction in the nuclear arsenal. This suggests the direction and attitude he will take in handling arms questions with the Russians, whom President Obama asked to give him some flexibility until after his re-election. The fear is Hagel is willing to dismantle the nuclear program for the sake of policy and diminish the US role in international security.
2. Based on his support for cutting the military budget, overall, there is concern, or an assumption he supports the sequestration cuts that were passed along in the recent “fiscal cliff” deals. He would surely support the Administration’s direction of moving to a more mechanized army, with drones and computer warfare, and a reduction of traditional machinery.
This creates concerns for places where the military presence has a substantial economic impact. Like Omaha, where Offutt Air Force Base has been in the conversation for cuts, and possible closing to meet a reduced defense budget. If he commits to closing Offutt, it may force the Nebraska Senators to vote against him.
3. There is still a need for his past comments to be clarified; particularly in regard to Israel’s security, sanctions and the plan to keep Iran from getting nuclear weapons, and his attitude toward homosexuality. Despite Schumer and other Democrats’ assurances that his views are compatible, the record exists.
In a recent interview Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) was asked about his view of Hagel. He chose to answer with a question of his own. What are the Nebraska Senators going to do?
Hagel did meet with Fischer and Johanns, separately, last week. His meeting with Fischer, a new member of the Senate’s Armed Forces Committee (and so, one of the Senators who will question Hagel publicly) was described simply as “frank” by her. She has stated her goal is to sort out the issues and understand Hagel’s views; rather than focus on any retribution for Hagel’s support for her opponent, former Senator Bob Kerrey (D), in the last election.
After meeting with Mike Johanns, a former colleague in the Senate, Johanns summarized their conversation. “I felt he answered my questions and I’m anxious now to see the hearing…He is making progress.” Johanns has had a longer, more personal, working relationship with Hagel in the Senate.
The political winds seem to be neutral, if not calm, within the state. There are groups who are springing up to oppose Hagel; but the bottom line is, if approved, as a former Senator who represented the state well, who might keep Offutt open, most people would be satisfied. On the other hand, because he opposed the Gulf War, was highly critical of George W Bush, worked to elect the Democratic nominee and now seems to have fallen in line with President Obama’s world view, if he is rejected, most Nebraskans would understand. It means, there is no political capital to be won or lost by the Senators; which frees them to vote their conscience, based on their conversations with him and whatever comes from the hearing.