Hagel’s 2008 trip to Iraq and Afghanistan with Obama, then the Democratic presidential nominee, in part drove Republican opposition to installing one of their own former colleagues in the Pentagon. In the weeks that followed, critics also pored over his past speeches and other public statements to question his views on Israel, Iran and other international hot spots.
Democrats also had concerns, including Hagel’s objection to the appointment of an openly gay man as ambassador to Luxembourg during the Clinton administration. The former senator apologized for his comments even before Obama officially nominated him.
Opposition to Hagel’s appointment grew after a dismal performance at his confirmation hearing. Two days after the Senate Armed Services Committee moved his nomination on a party-line vote, Senate Republicans mounted a filibuster to delay a final confirmation vote, saying they needed additional time to review his record and get answers to questions.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) also used Hagel’s nomination as leverage to press the Obama administration to answer his questions about the terrorist raid on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Libya that led to four American fatalities, including the ambassador.
Despicable Tea Party favorite Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a freshman and outspoken conservative, went so far as to suggest that Hagel may have received income from hostile states such as North Korea. Welcome to the future of the Republican party.
No new bombshells emerged during a 10-day Presidents Day recess, however, and 14 Republicans switched their votes to end the filibuster. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said the “over the top” opposition from some Republicans ultimately paved the way for confirmation.
Among Hagel’s most immediate challenges could be guiding the military through looming cuts to the defense budget – 13% in the current fiscal year, according to the Office of Management and Budget – because of the automatic budget cuts scheduled to take effect Friday.