Not too long ago, John McCain considered Chuck Hagel to be one of the leading voices on national security and foreign policy in the Senate. “I’d be honored to have Chuck with me in any capacity,” McCain said in 2006. Although the two had disagreed about Iraq policy for the past three years, with McCain calling for a counterinsurgency strategy (“surge”) and Hagel increasingly leaning toward withdrawal, “they remained friendly and respectful colleagues, who disagreed without rancor,” according to Mark Salter, McCain’s former Chief of Staff and a senior adviser to his presidential campaign. Last week on CNN, however, McCain described Hagel’s view “that (the) surge in Iraq would be the greatest blunder since the Vietnam War” as “bizarre”.
Oklahoma Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe, the ranking minority member of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) and the most conservative Republican in the Senate, has stated that despite their personal friendship, he and Hagel “are simply too philosophically opposed on [certain] issues for me to support his nomination.” Immediately upon hearing rumors of Hagel’s impending nomination, Sen. Lindsey Graham (SC) claimed that Hagel had “long severed his ties with the Republican party” and blamed Obama for putting forward “an in your face nomination…to all of us who are supportive of Israel.”
Another Republican SASC member, Roger Wicker, has declared, “I am strongly opposed to the President’s nomination of Sen. Hagel…His views and positions on the Middle East and Israel are contrary to the Administration’s own stated policies, and there are concerns from members of both parties about this nomination.” And David Vitter (LA) has already decided he will be voting “no” in the Armed Services Committee and on the floor. “Given Chuck Hagel’s statements and actions on a nuclear Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah, I think his confirmation would send exactly the wrong message to our allies and enemies alike,” he said.
A newly elected Republican appointed to SASC, Ted Cruz (TX), told Fox News Sunday during his show debut that “Hagel’s record is very, very troubling on the nation of Israel,” and he’s already decided that he’ll be voting “no” regardless of what he might learn at the SASC nomination hearings. Cruz offered no evidence other than Hagel’s reference in an interview to “the Jewish lobby.” Kelly Ayotte (NH), who did not serve alongside Hagel in the Senate, said she is “concerned” about Hagel’s record and plans to to grill Hagel about Israel and Iran.
Just how far out of the mainstream was Chuck Hagel as his two terms in the Senate drew to a close? Well, Hagel’s Senate voting record on Defense issues was in fact mainstream, which makes the level of outrage that his nomination has generated in certain Republican circles curious. Indeed, Hagel’s record is very much in line with his former Republican colleagues who are now members of the SASC and who have already declared their staunch opposition or strong reservations about his nomination: Lindsey Graham; James Inhofe; John McCain; David Vitter; and Roger Wicker.
This assessment is based on 15 Senate votes between 2006 and 2008 for a number of Senate bills, amendments and resolutions that were selected for their substantive content and implications for policy.
1. Defense Authorization Bill, S 3001. Passed Senate 78-12, Sept. 17, 2008. Hagel Yes; Graham No; Inhofe Yes; McCain Did Not Vote (DNV ); Vitter No; Wicker Yes.
Republicans were split: Hagel voted with Inhofe and Wicker.
2. Iraq and Afghanistan War Funding, Unemployment Benefits Extension, and GI Bill, HR 2642. Concurrence vote passed Senate 92-6, June 26, 2008. Hagel Yes; Graham Yes; Inhofe Yes; McCain DNV; Vitter Yes; Wicker Yes.
Hagel was well within the Republican — and Senate — mainstream in voting for the funding of both wars that the U.S. was engaged in.
3. Iraq Provisions Including a Troop Withdrawal, Senate Amendment 4817. Rejected 34-63, May 22, 2008. Hagel Yes; Graham No; Inhofe No; McCain DNV; Vitter No; Wicker No.
Hagel was in the minority on this vote in favoring a troop withdrawal from Iraq. The amendment did not pass. But in a vote on another amendment the same day, Hagel voted with the majority in the Senate and the current SASC Republicans who are now complaining about his record.
4. Funding for Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, Senate Amdt. 4818. Adopted 70-26, May 22, 2008. Hagel Yes; Graham Yes; Inhofe Yes; McCain DNV; Vitter Yes; Wicker (appointed to fill Trent Lott’s seat in the Senate Dec. 31, 2007) Yes.
5. Iraq Withdrawal Amendment, S Amdt. 3875. Rejected 24-71, Dec. 18, 2007. Hagel No; Graham No; Inhofe No; McCain No; Vitter No.
Hagel’s vote was in accord with those of the SASC Republicans and the Senate as a whole.
6. The Senate passed HR 1585, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008, by a vote of 92-3 on Oct. 1, 2007. Numerous Senate amendments were proposed prior to its passage. The only Iraq-related amendment to it that passed was S 2997, proposed by Sen. Joseph Biden (DE) giving the sense of Congress that “the U.S. should actively support a political settlement in Iraq based on the final provisions of the Constitution of Iraq that create a federal system of government and allow for the creation of federal regions, consistent with the wishes of the Iraqi people and their elected leaders.” The amendment passed the Senate 75-23 on Sept. 26, 2007, with Hagel, Graham, Inhofe and Vitter all voting No. McCain did not vote.
Among the proposed amendments that failed:
7. Troop Reduction Amendment, S Amdt. 2898. Rejected Senate 47-47, Sept. 21, 2007. Hagel Yes; Graham No; Inhofe No; McCain No; Vitter No.
8. Time Between Troop Deployments, S. Amdt. 2909, Rejected Senate, 56-44, Sept. 19, 2007. Hagel Yes; Graham No; Inhofe No; McCain No; Vitter No.
The votes on these two amendments are among the relatively rare times that Hagel voted differently than his GOP colleagues.
9. Sense of the Senate on Guantanamo Bay Detainees, S. Amdt. 2351, Adopted Senate 94-3, July 19, 2007. Hagel Yes; Graham Yes; Inhofe Yes; McCain Yes; Vitter Yes.
Hagel votes with the overwhelming majority in the Senate, as do his current critics.
10. United States Policy in Iraq Resolution of 2007. Joint Resolution, Failed Senate 48-50, March 15, 2007. Hagel No; Graham No; Inhofe No; McCain DNV; Vitter No.
In a close vote, Hagel voted with his Republican SASC colleagues.
11. Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense. PN 2191. Nomination confirmed, 95-2, Dec. 6, 2006; Hagel Yes; Graham Yes; Inhofe Yes; McCain Yes; Vitter Yes. Hagel voted with his SASC critics and the majority of the Senate.
12. Military Commissions Act of 2007, S 3930. Passed 65-34, Sept. 28, 2006. Hagel Yes; Graham Yes; Inhofe Yes; McCain Yes; Santorum Yes; Vitter Yes. Hagel voted with his SASC critics and the majority of the Senate.
13. National Security Amendment, S Amdt 4936. Motion rejected 41-57, Sept. 13, 2006. Hagel No; Graham No; Inhofe No; McCain No; Vitter No. Hagel voted with his SASC critics and the majority of the Senate.
14. Troop Redeployment Amendment, S. Amdt 4442. Motion rejected 13-86, June 22, 2006. Hagel No; Graham No; Inhofe No; McCain No; Santorum No; Vitter No. Hagel voted with his SASC critics and the majority of the Senate.
15. Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act. 2006, HR 4939. Passed 77-21, May 4, 2006; Hagel No; Graham No; Inhofe No; McCain No; Vitter Yes. Hagel voted with his SASC critics except for Vitter and the majority of the Senate.
And what about all those “pro-Iran” and “anti-Israel” votes that Republican SASC members are so upset about? They don’t appear to have occurred in the Senate during the last two years of the Bush administration, which were Hagel’s last two years in the Senate. Hagel was not among the 61 senators of both parties who co-sponsored the Iran Freedom and Support Act (S 333), a bill Rick Santorum (R-PA) introduced on February 9, 2005. The bill’s stated purpose was “to hold the current regime in Iran accountable for its threatening behavior and to support a transition to democracy in Iran.” Among Hagel’s fellow Republicans who also chose not to co-sponsor the bill were: Lamar Alexander (TN); Wayne Allard (CO); Lincoln Chafee (RI); Thomas Craig (WY); Pete Domenici (NM); Michael Enzi (WY); Bill Frist (TN); Lindsey Graham (SC); Charles Grassley (IA); Orrin Hatch (UT); Richard Lugar (IN); Lisa Murkowski (AK); Richard Shelby (AL); Arlen Spector (PA); John Warner (VA).
The question of whether or not the bill would have brought freedom or support to the people of Iran is beside the point, since the bill died after it was referred to the Foreign Relations Committee. Santorum reintroduced the bill in (S 3971) in Sept. 2006 with only 9 co-sponsors, but it died in committee without a vote. President George W. Bush signed an AIPAC-lauded House bill (H 282) instead. Since it never came the floor of the Senate for a vote, Hagel did not vote for or against the Senate version. While his decision not to sign on as a co-sponsor of he bill may have put Hagel in the minority, he was not “outside the Republican mainstream” — unless Graham was too.
Nor was Hagel among the 62 co-sponsors of S 534, introduced by Sen. Bill Frist (TN) on July 18, 2006 as a resolution that condemned Hamas and Hezbollah and their state sponsors, while supporting Israel’s right to self defense. Neither were Graham, Inhofe or 33 other Republican senators. The resolution passed the Senate by voice vote.
It’s perhaps understandable that Graham — and New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer (who has apparently gotten over it) — might have felt miffed that Hagel chose not to sign on to the Schumer-Graham letter to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. The letter, dated Oct. 2, 2007, asked Rice to pressure Arab states to be more conciliatory towards Israel and Hamas to abandon the use of terror. But — guess what? There were other Republicans besides Hagel who also didn’t sign it: Lamar Alexander (TN); Bob Bennett (UT); Kit Bond (MO); Jim Bunning (KY); Richard Burr (NC); Thad Cochran (MS); Larry Craig (ID); Elizabeth Dole (NC); Mike Enzi (WY); Chuck Grassley (IA); Judd Gregg (NH); Orrin Hatch (UT); James Inhofe (OK); Trent Lott (MS); Richard Lugar (IN); Mel Martinez (FL); Richard Shelby (AL); Gordon Smith (OR); Arlen Specter (PA); Ted Stevens (AK); John Sununu (NH); Craig Thomas (WY); John Warner (VA); and Roger Wicker (MS).
Hagel’s critics are also complaining about his decision to not join the 88 senators who signed a bipartisan letter to European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana that called on the EU to add Hezbollah to its terrorist list. The other 9 of the 10 Republican senators who didn’t sign the letter? Lamar Alexander (R-TN); Lincoln Chafee (RI); Tom Coburn (OK); Larry Craig (ID); Pete Domenici (NM);Michael Enzi (WY); Judd Gregg (NH); Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar (IN); and the Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman, Senator John Warner (R-VA).
And here’s something that Chuck Hagel did co-sponsor during his last year in the Senate, along with 56 other senators from both parties: the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act (S 22), introduced by Democratic Sen. Jim Webb (VA) on May 7, 2008. Not among the co-sponsors were numerous Republicans — whose “support for our our military” apparently means supporting defense contractors, rather than our troops and veterans — among them Graham (who refers to himself as a “Gulf War veteran” even though he did not serve abroad in the Gulf War itself); Inhofe; McCain; Santorum; Vitter; and Wicker. President Bush signed it into law as HR 2642 on June 30, 2008.
McCain has now stated that he won’t block Hagel’s nomination and won’t keep it from reaching the Senate floor. Even Vitter’s vow that he will not support Hagel in the SASC or in the full Senate vote strongly implies that he expects the nomination to move forward from the Armed Services Committee to a full Senate vote.
“These recent attacks amount to a mix of revisionist history and political gamesmanship, not a substantive examination of his record,” a former staffer told Foreign Policy‘s Josh Rogin. “And I think most of his former colleagues know that.” Contrary to the staffer’s expectations, however, Hagel’s nomination doesn’t seem to have blunted the animosity of his attackers. Perhaps a review of their own voting records will?
Photo: Chuck Hagel shares stories with Army Sergeants during a 2008 visit at Camp Eggers in Kabul, Afghanistan.