Chuck Hagel heads to Capitol Hill for his confirmation hearing today, and one thing we can say with confidence: It won't be a John Kerry-esque cakewalk. Hagel's facing skepticism and outright opposition from both sides of the aisle over past stances, particularly on Israel and nuclear proliferation. But he also has friends from his Senate tenure, and has been going on what the Washington Post terms a "charm offensive," meeting with more than 50 senators and special interest group founders. A look at how things stand going into today's hearing:
- There are 14 Democrats and 12 Republicans on the Armed Services Committee, but insiders say there's no guarantee Hagel will get all the Democrats. "If you read the tea leaves, I think he might get more Republican votes than people might think," adds one aide.
- A number of senators have seen their states pelted by ads from groups funded by anonymous donors opposing Hagel—including one that sprung up weeks ago for expressly that purpose, the Wall Street Journal reports. "This is unprecedented," says one Democrat. "This is not a presidential campaign."
- Hagel will offer a "blunt rebuttal" of his critics, the Post says. He'll also voice his support for Israel and his view of the Pentagon's fiscal challenges.
- Gay rights groups have largely dropped their complaints over Hagel's "aggressively gay" comment; the ambassador who was on the receiving end of that slur has even endorsed him.
- But questions persist over Hagel's commitment to Israel, despite endorsements from friends like Rabbi Aryeh Azriel of the Temple of Israel in Omaha, CNN reports. Major Hagel foe James Inhofe says Israel is Hagel's biggest vulnerability.
- But it's far from his only one. Many are also skeptical of Hagel's views on nuclear proliferation (he co-authored a study calling for the US to drop 900 of its roughly 5,000 warheads), defense spending (he's called the Pentagon budget "bloated"), and Afghanistan (he criticized the 2009 surge by saying the US was "marking time as we slaughter more young people").
- Inhofe and five other Republicans also asked Hagel in a letter this week to explain his ties to several companies with Defense Department contracts. Hagel has promised to divest himself of all such ties.
- Other senators to keep an eye on: John McCain, a former Hagel buddy who has been cagey about how he'll vote; tea partier Ted Cruz, who recently said Hagel had "consistently advocated weakness" on foreign affairs; and Lindsey Graham, who has been outspoken about his opposition to Hagel, calling him an "in-your-face nomination" who had "long severed his ties with the Republican party."