Hagel to face grilling by Senate panel on Mideast, budget

U.S. President Barack Obama's nominee for Secretary of Defense, former Senator Chuck Hagel.

Chuck Hagel will face tough questions on Pentagon spending cuts and U.S. relations with Israel and Iran on Thursday as he faces a deeply skeptical Senate panel considering his nomination to be President Barack Obama’s next secretary of defense.

Another member of Obama’s second-term national security team, Senator John Kerry, sailed through his confirmation before being receiving the Senate’s overwhelming support on Tuesday.

But Hagel, a former Republican senator and decorated Vietnam War veteran who broke with his party over the Iraq War, can expect a much more confrontational hearing when he is grilled on a range of issues by members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Although most observers expect Hagel will eventually be confirmed – barring unexpected fireworks at the hearing – Thursday’s testimony will be contentious.

At least three Republican panel members, including James Inhofe, the party’s leader on the committee, have said they did not support Hagel’s nomination.

“We are simply too philosophically opposed on the issues for me to support his nomination,” Inhofe said in a January 15 statement. Such comments have angered Hagel supporters, who say two-term senator, who would be the first former enlisted soldier to lead the Pentagon, deserves at least a hearing.

Hagel’s confirmation hearing is set for 9:30 a.m. EST (1430 GMT) on Thursday.

In the entire Senate, which would vote on Hagel if he is cleared by the committee, only one of the 45 Republicans – Mississippi’s Thad Cochran – has come out in Hagel’s favor.

He is expected to face tough questioning on Israel and Iran, his view of the Pentagon budget – Hagel is known as an advocate for tighter spending controls – and relations with China.

The Middle East, which has been the most intense focus of the anti-Hagel campaign, is likely to be the toughest issue.

“There’s a lot of misleading information out there about the senator’s views on Middle East policy. Senators are going to want to hear from Chuck Hagel directly on what his view is and what is the administration’s view,” said Mark Jacobson, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund and a former staffer on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

CHARM OFFENSIVE

Hagel, backed by the White House and Pentagon, has been on a charm offensive to win over recalcitrant senators since Obama nominated him this month to replace outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

Facing a public campaign against his appointment by critics seeking to portray him as soft on Iran, anti-Israel and uncommitted to equal rights for women and gays, Hagel has been pounding the halls of the Capitol to hold one-on-one meetings with 53 senators before his hearing.

Susan Collins of Maine, a moderate Republican, said on Tuesday she had spoken with Hagel for 90 minutes and been satisfied on several issues, but stopped short of endorsing him.

“We had a good discussion, but it’s obvious that we have very different views on some fundamental issues,” she said.

Hagel also detailed his views in 112 pages of written responses to wide-ranging questions submitted by lawmakers.

In them, he said that if confirmed as the next defense secretary, he would ensure that the military is prepared to strike Iran if necessary but stressed the need to be “cautious and certain” when contemplating the use of force.

Hagel also voiced support for a steady U.S. drawdown in Afghanistan, pledged to ensure equal treatment for women and homosexuals in the military and assured the committee that the United States would maintain an “unshakeable” commitment to Israel’s security.

Most observers expect Hagel will be confirmed by the committee, even if he is approved only 14-12, along party lines.

“I do think he’ll be voted out of committee tomorrow and then it will be interesting to see where things go on the Senate floor,” said Maren Leed, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

In the face of intense lobbying by both Hagel supporters and opponents, many Republicans have said they will withhold judgment until after the hearing.

Democrats control 55 seats in the Senate and can approve Hagel with no Republican support, but they will need some backing from Hagel’s party to overcome procedural hurdles that could stop the nomination.

One has already emerged. Senator Lindsey Graham, a committee member, has threatened to keep the nomination from going to the Senate floor if Panetta does not testify about a September attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya.

Democratic Senator Carl Levin, the committee’s chairman, said Panetta is already due to testify, and that would take place before the full Senate voted on Hagel.



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

MAP: New York City Street Closures August 22,…

The Percy Sutton Harlem 5K and NYC Family Health Walk-a-thon and Pakistan Day Parade and Fair will cause traffic delays and street closures in New York City this weekend. Plan…

International

U.N. nuclear inquiry on Iran seen making slow…

The U.N. nuclear watchdog appears to have made only limited progress so far in getting Iran to answer questions about its suspected atomic bomb research, diplomatic sources said on Friday,…

National

Violence-weary Missouri town sees second night of calm

By Nick Carey and Carey GillamFERGUSON Mo. (Reuters) - The violence-weary town of Ferguson, Missouri, saw a second straight evening of relative calm on Thursday…

National

Journalist James Foley's parents, after call with pope,…

The parents of James Foley, the American journalist killed by Islamic State militants in Iraq, on Friday called for prayer and support to free the remaining captives held by Islamic…

Television

Recap: 'The Knick,' Season 1, Episode 3, 'The…

The third episode of Steven Soderbergh's "The Knick" finds Dr. Thackery (Clive Owen) meeting an old flame and other characters embracing self-destruction.

Music

Webcast: Watch Polyphonic Spree live on Sunday Aug.…

Polyphonic Spree singer Tim DeLaughter sits with Metro Music Editor Pat Healy for a chat and then the big band performs live. It begins on Sunday at 9:30 pm

Movies

Matthew Weiner on directing 'Are You Here' and…

"Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner discusses his movie "Are You Here," his history writing comedy and the tiny movie he directed in 1996 you can't see.

Movies

Michael Chiklis on his football past and 'When…

Michael Chiklis remembers playing football in high school and how that prepped him to play a coach in "When the Game Stands Tall."

NFL

Fantasy football draft guide: How to draft your…

Many are wondering if we’re entering a new age in fantasy football drafting — one where running backs take a backseat.

NFL

Jets vs. Giants: 3 Giants storylines to watch

The Giants have plenty to work on as they reach the dress rehearsal preseason game Friday night against the rival Jets.

NFL

Jets vs. Giants: 3 Jets storylines to watch

Metro looks at three Jets storylines to watch as they play the Giants Friday.

NFL

Giants expected to work Corey Washington into first-team…

The day of reckoning for the Giants' fringe players will fall upon them Friday night against the Jets.

Sex

Big weddings may lead to long-term happiness

Dreaming of a big wedding? A new study indicates that the longer your guest list, the happier you’ll be in the long run. l A…

Sex

Online dating for every generation

Frank Jackson and his mother Maggie are like lots of modern families: They have dinner together regularly, keep each other updated on their lives —…

Wellbeing

Going green could be the key to getting…

If we could just pursue the things that would actually make us happy, we could help the environment too, according to a New York researcher.…

Tech

Siren: A new dating app that puts women…

Online dating can be brutal, especially for single women. Noting that many women hate wading through inappropriate messages and photos, two tech entrepreneurs decided to…