How Hagel Won Schumer’s Support For Defense Secretary

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Shortly after Chuck Hagel was nominated to be next secretary of defense, TPM asked a Senate Republican leadership aide what their opposition strategy was going to be.

The aide’s response in full: “Schumer.”

New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, a leadership Democrat, was seen as the GOP’s best hope of chipping away at support for Hagel’s confirmation, in part because of the former Nebraska senator’s occasional critiques of U.S. foreign policy toward Israel. Schumer initially hedged on whether he’d support Hagel but there was no reason to believe he would mount a fight against President Obama over the confirmation.

On Tuesday, Schumer dashed Republican hopes by announcing his intention to support Hagel for the Pentagon’s top job. In a statement, the New York Democrat said he was reassured after a 90-minute White House meeting on Monday with Hagel where the two discussed his views regarding Israel and the Middle East, Iran and a past anti-gay slur.

Schumer declined an offer last week to speak with Hagel by phone, according to a Senate aide. Instead the two men met in the West Wing, according to the aide. It was Hagel’s first in-person meeting with any senator about his nomination, the aide said, noting that Schumer is not even on the Armed Services Committee that has jurisdiction over the confirmation of the secretary of defense.At the White House Monday, Schumer also met with Obama, telling him that Hagel’s reassurances on issues regarding Israel and Iran would be central to his decision. As it turns out, they were enough: Schumer called Hagel Tuesday morning to say he would support him and sent his good wishes on the upcoming confirmation hearings.

“Based on several key assurances provided by Senator Hagel, I am currently prepared to vote for his confirmation,” Schumer said in a lengthy statement released after the phone call. “I encourage my Senate colleagues who have shared my previous concerns to also support him.”

Schumer said Hagel convinced him he fully supports Obama’s policies with regard to sanctions against Iran, refusing to negotiate with Hezbollah and Hamas, Israel’s right to retaliate militarily against its enemies and quashing the remains of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

“In general, I believe any President deserves latitude in selecting his own advisors,” the New York senator said. “While the Senate confirmation process must be allowed to run its course, it is my hope that Senator Hagel’s thorough explanations will remove any lingering controversy regarding his nomination.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sahil Kapur is TPM's senior congressional reporter and Supreme Court correspondent. His articles have been published in the Huffington Post, The Guardian and The New Republic. Email him at sahil@talkingpointsmemo.com and follow him on Twitter at @sahilkapur.
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