Confirmation Battles to Come

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Hagel in the Crosshairs


The conventional wisdom in Washington is that while there will be a fight in the Senate, Chuck Hagel will win Senate confirmation as President Obama’s new Secretary of Defense.  But the battle is shaping up as a contentious one right from the start.   Some Republicans began squawking even before the Hagel pick was made official, upset with some previous comments he made about relations with Israel and his opposition to the troop surge in Iraq.

Former senator Chuck Hagel is likely to have a rough confirmation process in the Senate, where many of his old Republican Party colleagues oppose his nomination as President Obama’s secretary of defense. Photo: AP

Of course, some Republicans will oppose Hagel because they never felt he really was one of them – even when was the Republican senator from Nebraska.  Hagel made a career as a party-bucking maverick in his two terms in the Senate and caused Republicans heartburn with his views on Iraq and how to rein in Iran’s nuclear development program.  But Hagel’s combat experience in Vietnam, which resulted in both wounds and medals, left him uniquely positioned to be at times both a defense hawk (he supported the Iraq invasion early on) and a respected critic (he opposed the troop surge and was a thorn in the side of the so-called neo-conservatives in the Bush administration) later on.

Historically, presidents generally get their cabinet picks approved by the Senate and actual rejection of nominees has occurred only a handful of times in U.S. history.  This is particularly true for current or former senators nominated to cabinet posts.  Former Texas Senator John Tower was the only senator rejected by a Senate vote when he was nominated to be secretary of defense by then President George H.W. Bush in 1989.


Bond with Obama

While a senator, Hagel did some travelling with then Senator Barack Obama to the war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it seems the two clicked on their worldviews of how and when to deploy

Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry seems likely to have an easier time getting confirmed in the Senate as the new secretary of state. Photo: AP

U.S. military force around the world.  If confirmed, Hagel will join a new foreign policy/national security team that will also presumably include Senator John Kerry as secretary of state.  Kerry’s confirmation is expected to be easier than Hagel’s and both men will bring the unique perspectives of Vietnam veterans to their new jobs, a polar swing away from the kind of neo-conservative activist military policy we saw during the George W. Bush administration.

Vietnam was an unpopular war, with an undefined ending. Many of those who fought in it, like former Secretary of State Colin Powell, came away with a visceral distaste for committing U.S. forces unless there was a compelling reason that had the backing of the public and a clear path to victory.

The Washington Times newspaper reports that veterans of the “Swift boat Veterans for Truth” group that went after Kerry during his 2004 presidential bid will not make an effort to stop his confirmation as secretary of state, making Hagel the focal point of Republican opposition at the moment.


Fight over Brennan Also Possible

There are also some stirrings that Republicans may try and make it tough for John Brennan to win confirmation as the new director of the Central Intelligence Agency.  South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham says Brennan shouldn’t be confirmed until the Obama administration provides more information about the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans including Ambassador Chris Stevens last September.  Brennan could also get some heat from liberal and anti-war groups upset with the administration’s expansion of the predator drone program to target suspected terrorists around the world.

Of course, Republicans may need to be careful not to be seen to opposing everyone the administration puts forward.  There was a time in Washington when the president was given a lot of leeway in making cabinet appointments, especially in the wake of a re-election victory.  But like everything else in these polarized political times, deference to the president seems like a custom that has faded quicker than an old photograph.


Republican’s Future

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, shown here Jan. 4, 2013, remains a rising star in the Republican Party and many are mentioning him as a possible presidential candidate in 2016.

Rising star of the week award seems headed for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.  His public approval ratings in New Jersey have shot up to above 70 percent in the wake of his handling of the aftermath of super storm Sandy and the devastation it wrought.  Christie is getting a lot of talk-up now as the possible future of the party and a potentially strong presidential contender in 2016 should he decide to run.  But some Republicans will not be quick to forgive Christie for his “beach-bonding” with President Obama along the Jersey Shore in the wake of Sandy, images that seemed to help the president in the waning days of his re-election campaign and to freeze any momentum for Republican candidate Mitt Romney.  But it would seem that if Republicans want to broaden their appeal in 2016 and go beyond their roots in the South and West, Christie could offer the party a straight-talking, populist-sounding regular guy who prides himself on getting things done.


Nixon at 100

Wednesday would have been the 100th birthday of the late President Richard Nixon, shown here in a 1973 file picture. Photo: AP

Wednesday marked the 100th anniversary of former President Richard Nixon’s birth in California.  Mr. Nixon was easily one of the most divisive (and in some cases despised) U.S. political figures of the 20th Century.  He was a dominant force in our politics from the late 1940’s right into the mid-1970s.  It’s astounding to think that Richard Nixon was part of five national presidential tickets, three as the presidential nominee.  He ran and won twice as vice president with President Dwight Eisenhower, lost the White House is a famously close election in 1960 to John Kennedy and came back to win the party nomination and the presidency in 1968, followed by re-election in 1972.  Mr. Nixon was a winner four out of five attempts at national office.

Of course, there is the other side of the coin known as Watergate, the scandal that forced his resignation in 1974, the only U.S. chief executive ever to step down from the presidency.  Nixon remains a mystery to scholars and even some supporters to this day, a brilliant man with an expansive grasp of foreign policy who nevertheless eventually fell victim to his own personal demons, petty political grudges and insecurities.

After a stint in the Peace Corps in Swaziland, Jim Malone joined VOA in 1983 as a reporter and anchor on English broadcasts to Africa.  He served as East Africa correspondent, then covered Congress in the early 1990′s.   Since 1995, Jim has served as VOA national correspondent responsible for coverage of U.S. politics, elections, the Supreme Court and Justice Department.  Jim has been involved in VOA’s election coverage since the 1984 presidential campaign and has co-anchored live VOA broadcasts of numerous national political conventions, candidate debates and election night coverage.