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The Hagel hearing, Part Four (Sens. Ayotte and Fischer take Hagel to the woodshed)

Sen. Hagan of North Carolina extracts another pledge from Hagel to support the “special relationship” with Israel. These repeated statements by Hagel are self-serving and probably not sincere. But it’s salutary to have Hagel make them over-and-over. Part of President Obama’s reason for nominating Hagel was, I believe, the desire to stick it to Israel and the pro-Israel lobby. If so, that purpose is undermined, to some extent, whenever Hagel disavows his prior statements about the “Jewish lobby” and talks up the “special relationship” between Israel and the U.S.

But Hagan also asks Hagel if he has any new ideas about how to strengthen the “special relationship.” Tellingly, Hagel has nothing to offer.

The Committee has adjourned for a while. When it resumes Sen. Ayotte will be up. Ayotte is viewed as a rising star in the Republican Party, so it will be interesting to see how she does today.

Ayotte begins by pointing out that in 2001, Hagel was one of only two Senators to vote against Iranian sanctions. Also in 2008, he was only of of two Senators on the Banking Committee to vote against a bill on Iranian sanctions. Ayotte asks whether he blocked unanimous consent on this legislation.

Hagel says he was part of a group of Senators who blocked the bill because the Bush administration didn’t want it to go forward.

Hagel also boasts of his alleged record of not basing his vote on how others voted. Yet, earlier in the hearings, he justified his vote against designating the IRG as a terrorist organization based in large part on the fact that Sen. Webb, whose credentials he touted, opposed it.

Ayotte returns to Hagel’s weak responses to Sen. Sessions questions about the report Hagel signed calling for unilateral deep cuts in the military. Hagel does no better with his responses this time around.

Ayotte returns to the issue of keeping the military option on the table as to Iran. She reminds Hagel of his statement in 2006 that the military option is not viable. He claims that he said it is not a “preferable” option. But that’s not what Hagel said, and Ayotte points this out as her time, unfortunately, expires.

Now it’s the turn of Sen. Manchin of West Virginia. He’s a Democrat from an increasingly conservative state. In theory, he should be at least a potential vote against Hagel. But I expect him to fall into line with his Party, and he concludes his questioning by stating that he will do so.

Manchin proves to be a pathetic questioner. After rambling for a few minutes, he asserts that “we are all very comfortable” with Hagel’s support for Israel. Actually, even some liberal Dems have said they are less than fully comfortable about this, although (surprise, surprise) they are coming around. Of all the Senators to question Hagel so far, this guy is easily the least impressive.

Now it’s Deb Fischer’s turn. She’s from Hagel’s home state of Nebraska, and she comes out smoking. Fischer says she’s less concerned about the positions Hagel has shifted on than she is about the positions he continues to hold. Specifically, she’s focused on the statements contained in his “Global Zero” report on reducing our nuclear arsenal. She asks whether Hagel agrees with the statement that ICBMs have lost their utility. Hagel denies that the report says this. Fischer insists that it does and says she will enter it into the record.

Hagel claims that reports like this are issued all the time, i.e., by think tanks. But Fischer insists that if one authors such a report, one should stand behind it. Hagel could hardly sound more lame than he does during this exchange.

Hagel resorts to his claim that he’s only talking about bilateral reductions. But this claim was discredited during the morning session.

Now comes Sen. Gillibrand. Her “yes” vote presumably is in the bag, now that her mentor Sen. Schumer has said he supports this nomination. She is just going to posture about how much she cares about Israel and, once again, extract Hagel’s concurrence.

And that’s what happens.

In addition, Gillibrand revisits a previous Hagel answer when, in explaining his vote not to designate the IRG as a terrorist organization, he said that Iran’s regime is a “legitimate” government. Hagel corrects himself, saying that he misspoke. What he meant to say that Iran is a “recognized” government. It’s amazing how much difficulty this guy has saying what he claims he means.

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