William Katz:  Urgent Agenda

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HAGEL UPDATE – AT 10:48 A.M. ET:  I must tell you that I've rarely seen a potential Cabinet selection create such an uproar since the nomination of Lewis Strauss to be secretary of commerce in the Eisenhower administration.  Strauss, an outstanding public servant, also had a unique talent for rubbing people the wrong way, and was ultimately defeated.  Now we have former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, being considered for the critical post of secretary of defense.   

The question being asked most of the time is this:  Why would Obama even want someone like Hagel.  Well, the answer comes back – bipartisanship.  Hey, wait a minute.  Hagel hasn't been identified with his party in years.  He wouldn't even support John McCain, his friend, in 2008.  Reporters noticed that he had a bunch of yard signs outside his Virginia home before this last election, all boosting Democratic candidates.  Hagel had to leave the Senate because his own party wouldn't guarnatee is renomination.  What bipartisanship is this?

His wisdom?  The man is a goofball, a world-class appeaser, who coincidentally serves on the board of a German bank under investigation for illegal trading with Iran.  His foreign-policy views are to the left of the Obama administration itself.

His management skills?  What management skills?  When he was in the Senate, Hagel had a reputation for operating one of the worst-run Senate offices.  He's never run a large organization.  His staff turnover was breathtaking.  No one seemed to like him.

His military record?  He was a sergeant in Vietnam.  Very commendable.  There were thousands of sergeants in Vietnam.  Running the Pentagon is a different pay grade.

His personal skills?  We haven't noticed any.

The Los Angeles Times provides an update on this strange affair:

Democratic foreign policy leaders and congressional allies privately criticized the White House's handling of the nominations, which some say follows a pattern of sloppy management of personnel selections. They worry that another retreat could embolden Republicans to challenge future nominations.

A top White House advisor said Friday that Obama was still considering Hagel, but that he was also looking at Michele Flournoy, who was Pentagon undersecretary for policy in Obama's first term, and Ashton Carter, the current deputy secretary, the Defense Department's second-ranking position.

The advisor said Obama hadn't settled on Hagel and was not deterred by the criticism now. But with Rice out of the running for a Cabinet post, Obama may seek diversity among his new team and give greater weight to nominating Flournoy as the first woman to run the Pentagon.

She's also very strong and has bipartisan support.

As criticism mounted, Hagel broke his silence Friday by apologizing for his comments in 1998, when he denigrated a nominee to be ambassador to Luxembourg as "openly, aggressively gay." In a statement, Hagel called his remarks "insensitive," and said "they do not reflect the totality of my public record."

Also Friday, Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), who will be the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee in the next Congress, complained in a C-SPAN interview about Hagel's reference to the "Jewish lobby" in a book by former U.S. peace negotiator Aaron David Miller.

"It shows at the very best a lack of sensitivity, at the very worst perhaps a prejudice," Engel said. "And I'm concerned about it. I'm concerned about the nomination."

A Hagel nomination appealed to White House aides after the bitter election campaign because it would show bipartisanship, and might help win congressional support for expected cuts to the defense budget.

But the Nebraskan moderate has little support in the conservative Republican Senate caucus. And the pro-Israel and gay rights groups that oppose him have strong influence in the Democratic Party.

"Despite his two Purple Hearts, I'm not sure how much support he has within the Democratic caucus," said Jim Manley, a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

COMMENT:  What would be Obama's real motive for going into such a confirmation battle?  Why isn't he aware that something else could come out at the last minute that would sink this nomination and humiliate the president, just as he was humiliated over Susan Rice?  There's so much smoke here, there has to be another flame.

This White House.  What a bunch.

December 22,  2012