Possible Hagel nomination takes on water from both sides of the aisle

Jamie Weinstein Senior Writer
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Even Christmas week has been unkind to Chuck Hagel.

The former Republican Nebraska senator has faced a barrage of criticism, particularly for his positions on Iran and Israel, since his name was first floated as a potential successor to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.

Hagel’s critics have drawn attention to his past call for direct talks with the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas and, when he was in the Senate, his refusal to sign on to a letter urging the European Union to designate Hezbollah a terrorist organization.

He also voted against designating Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization, and once claimed a “Jewish lobby” politically “intimidates” elected officials on Capitol Hill.

Christians United for Israel, which declared its opposition to Hagel last week, emailed supporters Wednesday urging them to “[a]ct now to stop the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense.”

The emailed statement, signed by CUFI chairman Pastor John Hagee and CUFI executive director David Brog, declared “Hagel’s nomination would be bad news for America and Israel” because of what the group sees as Hagel’s weak position on the threat posed by a nuclear Iran.

“If you don’t recognize the greatest threats to America, you cannot defend against them,” the letter read.  Hagee and Brog asked CUFI supporters to contact their senators to ask them to speak out against Hagel.

Meanwhile on Capitol Hill, Buzzfeed reports, Hagel’s opponents are circulating a document outlining more alleged indiscretions — at least from the point of view of partisan Democrats.

“Chuck Hagel’s actual record of extreme positions on critical issues is disturbing,” the document reads.

“He is out of the mainstream. Why should Democrats once again abdicate the Defense Secretary job to a Republican. Are there no Democrats with mainstream views for the White House to pick?”

The document focuses on condenming Hagel for his pro-Second Amendment voting record as senator, and for his pro-life position.

It also specifically contrasts Hagel’s record with that of former Democratic California Rep. Jane Harman, suggesting that perhaps the document’s creator is behind a stealth campaign to support Harman for Panetta’s job.

“The Brady Campaign against Gun Violence has given Hagel a LIFETIME RATING OF 7 OUT OF 100. That’s better than his ZERO from NARAL on women’s issues and a ZERO on gay rights from the Human Rights Campaign,” the document reads.

“By contrast, Former House Intelligence Committee Chair Jane Harman received a rating of 100 from the Brady Campaign, 100 from NARAL, and 100 from the Human Rights Campaign.”

Harman served for a time as ranking member of the House intelligence committee, not as its chair as the document states. She has not been mentioned among those President Obama is considering nominating to lead the Defense Department.

The anti-Hagel document also brings up Hagel’s 1994 opposition to appointing James Hormel as ambassador to Luxembourg because he was “openly, aggressively gay.” When the comment first surfaced earlier this month, gay rights organizations expressed concern about a potential Hagel nomination.

Hagel apologized for the comment last week and said it doesn’t reflect his current views.

In the Senate, the prospect of a Hagel nomination has not generated enthusiasm. Several Republican senators, including John McCain, Marco Rubio and Kelly Ayotte, have publicly expressed concern over Hagel’s record, and said he would have to answer tough questions if President Obama nominated him to head the Pentagon.

Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn straightforwardly declared last week that he would oppose his former colleague’s nomination, should it be made official.

“I can’t support a Hagel nomination if it comes,” he told The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin. “I’ve heard prominent Democrats concerned about his position on Israel. Many Republican have said they did not want to prejudge. But it would be a bad move and one of the reasons I’ve taken the position [to oppose]. ‘Mr. President don’t do that. It would be a bad nomination.’”

Democrats haven’t rushed to embrace Hagel either. On “Meet the Press” Sunday, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, the third-ranking Senate Democrat, refrained from  offering support for Hagel’s nomination, saying only that the president could nominate whomever he wants for the post. He added that he would evaluate Hagel’s record if he was nominated.

In a Christmas Day letter to The Washington Post, former national security advisers James Jones, Frank Carlucci, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft offered an endorsement of Hagel.

He also received an endorsement from New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman on Christmas Day — which could be seen as the biggest blow to his candidacy yet.

Just ask Secretary of State Arne Duncan.

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Jamie Weinstein