White House: Hearings helped Hagel

Rachel Rose Hartman
The Ticket

The White House on Friday claimed that the eight hours of brutal questioning former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel endured Thursday during his Senate confirmation hearing actually helped his prospects of becoming the next secretary of defense.

"We expect the Senate to confirm Sen. Hagel to the position of secretary of defense," White House spokesman Jay Carney said at Friday's press briefing. "By my estimates and reading of press reports, there has been a net increase in the number of confirmed 'yes' votes for Sen. Hagel's confirmation since the hearing ended."

Still, few believe the hearings are earning Hagel new support. He was roundly criticized for having to correct himself throughout the hearing, while some suggested he was ill-prepared and appeared too apologetic.

On Friday morning, Republican Sen. Roy Blunt, a member of the committee, announced he would oppose Hagel's nomination.

“Senator Hagel’s answers before the committee were simply too inconsistent, particularly as they related to Iran and Israel. The idea that we can contain a nuclear Iran and his view that we should not have unilateral sanctions are just wrong and are too dangerous for us to try," Blunt said in a statement.

Blunt's decision may not be enough to block Hagel's confirmation at the committee level. Since Democrats control the Senate, there are two more Democrats than Republicans on the committee.

Hagel was repeatedly questioned about and criticized for his past statements on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; his opposition to unilateral economic sanctions against Iran; and on other fronts. In one notable exchange, Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain grilled Hagel on why he opposed U.S. troop surges in Iraq.

Carney, who on Friday said Hagel had done "a fine job," noted McCain's line of questioning in particular and chided Republicans for not focusing on the future and how Hagel plans to lead the department.

"What struck me was the stridency of some of the questioning from Republican critics, his former colleagues, the focus on a war that this president ended." He later described the questioners' tones as "badgering" and criticized Republicans for "relitigating the past."

Carney said he would be "stunned" if Republicans overall blocked the nomination of a decorated war hero and former colleague.