Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol and his neocon allies went all-in to try to prevent Chuck Hagel from being nominated to be the next Defense Secretary. While the noise and “disgusting” attacks on the former Republican senator have indeed sucked a lot of oxygen in the beltway media and beyond, what really matters is what U.S. Senators think — as Congress’s upper chamber will ultimately decide Hagel’s fate. But it appears that Hagel’s chances of taking Leon Panetta’s job aren’t as bad as the media circus surrounding Hagel’s nomination is making it seem. As it stands right now, there are just five Senators — all Republicans — who have said they would vote against Hagel: Roger Wicker (MS), John Cornyn (TX), Ted Cruz (TX), David Vitter (LA) and Tom Coburn (OK).
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has perhaps been the most vocal Republican senator attacking Hagel, spending 5 minutes laying in to Obama’s nominee on CNN on Sunday, for example, claiming Hagel is “antagonistic” toward Israel (he’s not). But even Graham said in the same segment that he has not made a decision on whether he’ll vote to confirm Hagel:
HOST CANDY CROWLEY: Are you opposed enough to filibuster the nomination?
GRAHAM: The hearings will matter. He can set some of this straight. Maybe these are statements taken out of context, but when you put all the statements together, you have somebody who is very antagonistic towards the state of Israel and the issues we jointly face.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) refused an opportunity to attack Hagel when asked about his nomination on ABC’s This Week on Sunday, “Whoever’s nominated for secretary of defense is going to have to have a full understanding of our close relationship with our Israeli allies, the Iranian threat, and the importance of having a robust military,” McConnell said, adding, “So whoever that is, I think, will be given a thorough vetting. And if Senator Hagel’s nominated, he’ll be subjected to the same kinds of review of his credentials as anyone else.” And Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), an influential voice within the GOP on military matters, has also not made up his mind on Hagel.
Yet the conventional wisdom on Hagel appears to be that his confirmation is in doubt. MSNBC’s Chuck Todd reported on Monday before Obama’s announcement that he knows of at least 10 Democratic senators who would oppose the nomination and that “Republicans look like they’re going to be fairly united in opposition to Hagel.”
But the evidence doesn’t necessarily back that claim up. Along with the high-profile support Hagel received yesterday after his nomination (and throughout the last month), two top Democratic senators, Dianne Feinstein (CA) and Carl Levin (MI) said they would vote for Hagel (thus making it more likely that their fellow Democrats will follow suit). And the top Senate Republican saying Hagel should get a fair hearing doesn’t necessarily signify “fairly united” GOP opposition.
As far as Hagel’s confirmation goes, what matters is Senate votes, not the right-wing noise machine. As one observer on Twitter noted, “It’s almost as if the opposition to Hagel is centered around dyed-in-the-wool neocons.”