Did Obama talk to Chuck?

The conventional wisdom has it that Chuck Schumer holds the key to the confirmation prospects of Chuck Hagel. The conventional wisdom may well be correct. As one of its purveyors, Politico, explains, “If Schumer were to oppose Hagel, it would almost certainly amount to a fatal blow to his candidacy since a number of pro-Israel Democrats who are squeamish about the nominee could very well be influenced by the No. 3 Democrat’s position.” But if Schumer supports Hagel, his status as a Senate leader and supporter of Israel would provide the cover necessary for Democrats to back Hagel with near (or actual) unanimity.

According to Politico, several sources say Schumer has told senators it would be “very hard” for him to support Hagel because of his positions on Israel over the years. And last week, he reportedly told allies and power brokers in the Jewish community that he’s uneasy about Hagel’s nomination.

So what will Schumer do? My guess is that, assuming that Hagel successfully goes through the motions of a confirmation conversion on issues relating to Israel-Iran and assuming no new information harmful to Hagel emerges, Schumer will vote to confirm, if Obama needs his vote. In my view, Schumer is a Party loyalist before he is a supporter of Israel. Or, as Hagel might put it, Schumer is the Senator from Democratic left-liberalism (and, above all, from Chuck Schumer’s aspiration to power), not the Senator from Israel. So I would expect enough posturing to avoid alienating Jewish voters in a big way, followed by a vote that will keep him on the good side of the president and the left.

Given Schumer’s centrality in this matter, wouldn’t you think that the White House obtained a clear signal of probable support from Schumer before proceeding with the Hagel nomination? I would have, and perhaps it did — maybe the “Hamlet” act we’re about to witness will be a charade.

If the White House nominated Hagel without some kind of positive signal from Schumer, he may be sufficiently offended to make Obama sweat this one out. But that’s not the same thing as being offended enough to sink Hagel.

Even if Hagel isn’t confirmed, a significant amount of damage has already occurred due to the fact that Obama wants Hagel at the Pentagon. After all, it’s Obama, not Hagel, who will set our foreign and defense policies. And the signal from Obama to Iran sent by the Hagel nomination is the same regardless of whether Hagel is confirmed.

Nonetheless, with Hagel in the cabinet, Obama would receive a steady stream of bad advice (some of it anti-Israeli) and the Pentagon likely would be poorly managed. But I’m not betting on Schumer to stand in the way of these consequences.


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