After weeks of speculation and before weeks of heated partisan bickering over his appointee's controversial record, President Obama will nominate former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense "as early as Monday," reports Foreign Policy's Josh Rogin. A White House spokesperson warned NBC's Chuck Todd late Friday of reading too much into "premature" speculation, but still confirmed that Hagel remains a "leading contender" for replacing Leon Panetta at the Pentagon. Why did we finally hear more than just all those rumors on a Friday afternoon? "The reason a lot of outside sources are being given a heads up on Hagel," writes Todd, "is that the White House knows if Hagel is indeed the president's choice, it's going to be a real fight." That's true: beginning with the very first whisper of his name, Hagel has been subject to intense scrutiny from members of both parties. Here's how you can expect the conversation to take shape, from the Sunday shows to the confirmation hearings:
We'll be talking about Israel.
Hagel's record on foreign policy, particularly policy pertaining to Israel, has produced a few offhand remarks that have raised more than just upward-facing eyebrows. He referred to pro-Israel groups on Capitol Hill as "the Jewish lobby," whom he stated he wasn't intimidated by. And today the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative website founded in 2012, reported that Hagel referred to Israel as "the Jews" — as in, "let the Jews pay for it" — during a disagreement over funding for a USO port in the northern Israel city of Haifa. His voting record has been under the microscope as well: Hagel reportedly told a critic that accused him of not supporting Israel enough that, "I'm not an Israeli senator. I'm a United States Senator. I support Israel. But my first interest is, I take an oath of office to the constitution of the United States. Not to a president, not to a party, not to Israel."
We'll be talking about gay rights.
About a potential nominee for American ambassador to Luxembourg, Hagel said, in 1998:
“They are representing America,” Mr. Hagel said in an interview with The Omaha World-Herald. “They are representing our lifestyle, our values, our standards. And I think it is an inhibiting factor to be gay — openly, aggressively gay like Mr. Hormel — to do an effective job.”
Hagel quickly apologized when the remark made the rounds in late December. While the Human Rights Council, a prominent gay-rights group, accepted his apology, former Representative Barney Frank, who is gay — and might just replace John Kerry in the Senate — did not:
He voted consistently against fairness for LGBT people and there does not seem to be any evidence prior to his effort to become Secretary of Defense of any apology or retraction of his attack on James Hormel. And to those of us who admire and respect Mr. Hormel, Sen. Hagel’s description of him as aggressive can only mean that the Senator strongly objected to Hormel’s reasoned, civil advocacy for LGBT people.
Frank added: "I cannot think of any other minority group in the U.S. today where such a negative statement and action made in 1998 would not be an obstacle to a major Presidential appointment."
We'll be talking about people smearing Hagel.
A central theme among Hagel's defenders — in the pages of the The New Republic, The New York Times, Foreign Policy, and so on — is that his critics are united in their willingness to do whatever it takes to kill his nomination because they perceive him to be soft on Iran and too harsh toward Israel. That's only half-true: there are legitimate grounds to oppose Hagel's policies that have nothing to do with his comments about Jewish people or gay people. That doesn't mean it won't be difficult, next week and beyond, to disentangle policy criticisms from personal attacks.