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Bipartisan Consensus: Hagel Blew His Confirmation Hearing


"Happily, he is lying today & knows it. "

Today saw the confirmation hearings for Chuck Hagel, quite possibly the most controversial cabinet nominee of President Obama's second term. For Hagel, a man who has been thoroughly dogged by criticism over his record of dubious statements regarding Israel,  as well as questions regarding his capacity for management, this was an opportunity to set the record straight and quiet his critics. It was, in short, an important (possibly even crucial) event as confirmation hearings go.

Did Hagel manage to do what he needed? So far, according to most commentators, the answer appears to be a thundering "no." In fact, Hagel may have hurt himself, judging by some of the reactions, which have been negative not just from the predictable chorus of presidential critics on the Right, but even from liberals who would be more inclined to support Hagel's confirmation. Even most news stories describe Hagel as defensive, hedging, inconsistent and excessively nonconfrontational when pressed. Witness this from Politico:

Chuck Hagel stumbled Thursday during questioning on Iran, inadvertently saying the Obama administration supports “containment” and calling the country an “elected legitimate government.”

"I support the president's strong position on containment, as I have said," the former Republican senator from Nebraska told the Senate Armed Services Committee considering his nomination for Defense secretary.[...]

Later, Hagel, who was being questioned by Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), was passed a note informing him of his mistake, and he offered a correction.

"I misspoke and said I supported the president's position on containment. If I said that, I meant to say we don't have a position on containment," Hagel said.

But even that was not clear enough. Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) stepped in to clarify further.

"We do have a position on containment, and that is we do not favor containment," Levin said. "I just wanted to clarify the clarify."

And this from the New York Times:

Mr. Hagel dodged a direct answer as Mr. McCain asked him repeatedly if history would judge whether Mr. Hagel was right or wrong to oppose the surge in forces when he was a Republican senator from Nebraska. The escalation, along with other major factors, is credited in helping quell the violence in Iraq at the time. When Mr. Hagel said he wanted to explain, Mr. McCain bore in.

“Are you going to answer the question, Senator Hagel, the question is whether you were right or wrong,” Mr. McCain said.

“I’m not going to give you a yes or no answer,” Mr. Hagel replied.

Footage from the hearing bears this description out. Hagel's exchange with Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) over Iran especially bears mention: 

But if the news footage and stories painted Hagel in a bad light, it was nothing to the reactions. National Review took the trouble of compiling a mountain of critical Tweets about Hagel's confirmation, both from liberals and conservatives, of which one or two of the more scathing follow:





So pervasive was the mockery that the Washington Free Beacon compiled a post sardonically entitled "Hagel's 7 Worst Moments in Round One." Here's number one:

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal's liveblog of Hagel's confirmation hearings seemed to read more grimly with each update. A few highlights:

Graham, who’s been critical of Hagel, starts off a combative line of questioning about the pro-Israel lobby’s influence on Congress.

“Name one person in your opinion who’s intimidated by the Israeli lobby,” Graham charges.

Hagel says he can't name one.

He once again apologizes about his comment about the “Jewish Lobby.”[...]

Graham pulls a lawyer move as he whips out a copy of the letter to present to Hagel and asks him to reconsider signing it on the next break.

"The lack of signature by you runs chills up my spine," Graham says in closing.[...]

Some comments on the hearing so far: “I was disappointed to hear that Chuck Hagel did not do real well today – that’s what I’ve heard from almost everybody,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R., Utah). He said that some Democrats also said that. “I question whether he’ll make it. I had believed that he would up until now.. But I’ve heard from two or three guys on the floor including one Democrat that he did not do well today.”

But perhaps the most damning reaction came in the form of praise. Specifically, MJ Rosenberg, a rabid critic of Israel and former fellow at Media Matters, tweeted the following about Hagel:

For comparison, here's a few of Rosenberg's tweets about the so-called "Jewish lobby":


Getting an endorsement from Rosenberg, in other words, might not be  what Hagel was hoping for, given suspicions surrounding him and Israel.

That's not to say that Hagel's supporters haven't closed ranks. In defending Hagel's performance, special attention has been paid to attacking the questioning of Senator Ted Cruz, who played clips of Hagel making derisive comments about Israel as part of his interrogation of Hagel. Hagel's supporters claim these comments are out of context. Cruz's office has posted an Al Jazeera clip of the same:

Hagel's supporters claim this video, too, is out of context.

However, for all the attacks on those who questioned Hagel, the fact remains that the first round of hearings has been roundly derided as a disaster. Will Hagel still achieve confirmation? It's quite possible, given the Senate's partisan loyalties, but after today, it no longer looks nearly so clear cut.

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