The Long, Sorry Saga of Chuck Hagel's Confirmation Battle is About to Come to an End

After hitting snag after snag after snag, the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be Defense Secretary appears to be winding its way down towards a confirmation vote. The vote would come after weeks of political stonewalling and intense questioning of Hagel over the Iraq War, Iran and Israel.

The New York Times notes that John McCain and Lindsey Graham, two neoconservative Senators who had harshly questioned Hagel during his confirmation hearing, are relenting in their opposition. McCain and Graham had joined in with fellow Republicans to filibuster Hagel’s nomination last week. “I don’t believe that we should hold up his nomination any further because I think it’s a reasonable amount of time to have questions answered,” said McCain on Meet the Press on Sunday.

The comments by Graham and McCain appear to pave the way for a full Senate vote that will see Hagel confirmed. But it comes after weeks of intense political theater that saw smear after smear thrown at Hagel.

The saga started when Hagel’s name was first floated by the Obama White House as a possible Defense Secretary. What followed was a neoconservative-led campaign against Hagel that painted him as anti-Semite and a fellow-traveler with enemies of the U.S. The campaign against Hagel was sparked by the nominee’s voicing some blunt truths in the past about the power of the Israel lobby in Washington, D.C. and the failure of the Iraq War. The confirmation hearings, primarily focused on Israel and Iran, saw the nominee recant on many of the things he had said in the past. If anything, the confirmation hearings themselves confirmed what Hagel had once said: that the Israel lobby (though he used the term “Jewish lobby”) intimidates people in Washington.

The latest tactic to derail Hagel’s nomination was to question whether he had received money from foreign enemies of the U.S. Ted Cruz, an upstart Tea Party Republican from Texas, used what observers called McCarthyite tactics against Hagel. Then, the neoconservative Washington Free Beacon revealed that Hagel had said in 2007 that the State Department was run as an “adjunct” to the Israeli government. In a letter to Senator Graham, Hagel disavowed the comment, much as he disavowed his other past comments critical of Israel.

In response to the Free Beacon’s revelation, mainstream Jewish groups who had largely sat out of the pile-on Hagel campaign led by neoconservatives voiced their own objections. But it’s unlikely their objections will carry weight in the end, since the nomination looks to be a sure thing now.

But until the vote actually happens, the neoconservative-led campaign won’t let up. The Times notes that “outside groups campaigning against Mr. Hagel’s nomination said they would step up efforts to find damaging information and to pressure senators to vote against him.”

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