Even before the explosions, polling suggested that Massachusetts voters weren’t excited about the looming special election to replace former U.S. Sen. John Kerry.
But in the days after bombs ripped through the Boston Marathon’s crowded streets, politics were all but forgotten as authorities launched an unprecedented manhunt and a region grappled with terror. It didn’t matter that competitive primary contests on both sides were 15 days away; everything was put on hold.
“There are things that are more important than campaigning and that horrific event was clearly one of them,” said U.S. Rep. Ed Markey, who is competing against U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch for the Democratic nomination to replace Kerry, now the secretary of state.
After suspending political activities for roughly a week, the candidates have been forced to walk a delicate balance as they engage voters ahead of Tuesday’s Republican and Democratic primaries. They have largely avoided the site of the attack out of sensitivity for victims, but some have tweaked campaign advertising to address the bombing, highlighted their national security credentials and tried to use the sudden focus on terrorism to shift the direction of the race.
“It completely changed the landscape,” Lynch aide Scott Ferson said of the bombing.
Indeed, a campaign once dominated by debates about the environment, health care and women’s rights has become more focused on enemy combatants, Miranda rights and counterterrorism agencies. Some candidates welcomed the shift.
On the Democratic side, Lynch has seized on national security in recent days to attack Markey, thought to be the frontrunner. One of the most memorable moments in last week’s Democratic debate, just a week after the bombing, focused on support for federal security efforts
“Unlike my colleague Mr. Markey, I’ve actually voted for the Department of Homeland Security appropriations bills,” Lynch charged.
Markey responded: “He’s taking a page right out of the Karl Rove swift boat playbook, and it’s very sad, especially just one week after what just happened in Boston, Cambridge and Watertown.”
Through Tuesday’s primary election, Markey outspent Lynch on television advertising $1.7 million to $1.2 million, according to advertising figures obtained by The Associated Press. But only Lynch focused on the bombings in a television ad that blanketed the state last week, while Markey focused on traditional Democratic priorities such as women’s reproductive rights.
“We hold in our hearts those we lost, but we will get through this together and work toward a brighter day,” Lynch says in the campaign ad.
But Lynch was forced to distance himself last week from a so-called robo-call made on his behalf by the leader of ironworkers’ union who mentions the bombings while encouraging voters to support someone who “understands the day-to-day problems facing working families.” It was an awkward moment for the Lynch campaign, which called on the group to stop the calls.
But it’s unclear how many people were paying attention.
“The bombings basically sucked all the air out of the room,” said Steve Koczela, president of MassINC Polling Group, which found last month that more than 40 percent of likely Democratic voters and nearly 50 percent of likely Republican voters hadn’t settled on a candidate.
“It just doesn’t seem like — even as of the last poll — people were really paying attention to who was running,” Koczela continued. “There’s room for any of the candidates to make a move.”
On the Republican side in particular, the recent violence shifted the contours of the contest.
GOP candidate Gabriel Gomez, a former Navy SEAL, finished running the marathon minutes before the bombs exploded along the finish line, killing three and injuring more than 200.
Like other candidates, Gomez immediately pulled television ads off the air and suspended campaign activities. He said he was focused on being respectful as he eased back into campaigning the following weekend.
“We can’t let the terrorists win and completely suspend what is fundamental right in the United States,” Gomez said.
He charged that President Barack Obama’s administration should have designated 19-year-old suspect Dzhohkar Tsarnaev an “enemy combatant” and tried him outside the traditional criminal justice system.
Another GOP candidate, Mike Sullivan, says the federal government should have denied Tsarnaev his Miranda rights, tried him as an enemy combatant and revoked his U.S. citizenship.
“Our first concern must always be preventing future terrorist acts against our people,” said Sullivan, a former U.S. attorney whose campaign has been reminding people that he previously led the prosecution of shoe bomber Richard Reid.
Republican candidate Dan Winslow, a former judge and chief legal counsel under former Gov. Mitt Romney, said the entire GOP field has experience with national security.
“We’ve got a Navy SEAL, a former prosecutor and a former judge all in the field for Republicans,” Winslow said. “I think we all have our own credentials. The key is, Who’s got the better ideas? Who’s got the better electability in June?”
The key may also be which candidate can convince his supporters to get to the polls as the bombing continues to dominate attention in Massachusetts. State officials were already predicting a low turnout, likely less than 20 percent of eligible voters, even before the attack.
Wendy Becker, 45, of Newton, was among the thousands who visited the bomb site in Copley Square late last week. A registered voter, she said she didn’t know the primaries were happening so soon.
“I didn’t even know it was Tuesday and haven’t cared,” she said, noting that her little brother and brother-in-law ran in the marathon. She’s been glued to the television coverage of the aftermath even since.
“I don’t really know much about the candidates,” she said while standing on the freshly poured cement on Boylston Street, where one of the bombs exploded. “I think this just took over the whole voting thing.”
The general election, featuring the primary winners, is scheduled for June 25.
Associated Press writer Steve LeBlanc in Boston contributed to this report.
The top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said Wednesday that Congress should overhaul the 2001 authorization for the use of military force to encompass the use of drones for targeted killings.
Weighing in on an issue of both national security and civil liberties, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said the law passed days after the Sept. 11 terror attacks needs to be revised to deal with emerging threats and ensure greater congressional oversight.
“For far too long, Congress has failed to fully exercise its constitutional responsibility to authorize the use of military force, including in the current struggle against al-Qaida, so I urge the committee to consider updating current anti-terrorism authorities to adapt to threats that did not exist in 2001 and to better protect our nation while upholding our morals and values,” Corker said at the start of a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on counterterrorism.
The law gave President George W. Bush the authority to launch the invasion of Afghanistan and target al-Qaida, saying the commander in chief has the authority to attack “nations, organizations or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”
Since then, President Barack Obama has used the law’s authority to target terrorists with fatal drone strikes, including Americans overseas.
The issue came to the forefront in recent weeks as Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., waged a nearly 13-hour filibuster of John Brennan’s nomination for CIA director over the president’s authority to use drones in the United States. The Senate eventually confirmed Brennan.
Corker said the Foreign Relations Committee, which has jurisdiction, should put “in place specific policy guidance for how and when the president can use these authorities, including lethal action and the use of drones, in regular consultation with Congress, so we can restore the appropriate balance of power between the legislative and executive branches of government while maintaining flexibility for the president to respond swiftly under threat of attack.”
Former Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., now the president of The Wilson Center, told the committee that she never imagined that 12 years after the law that it would be used against disparate enemies.
The No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, Dick Durbin of Illinois, on Wednesday also raised questions about the law, which will be the subject of a hearing on drones at a Judiciary panel’s hearing next month.
“I don’t believe many, if any, of us believed when we voted for that — and I did vote for it — that we were voting for the longest war in the history of the United States and putting a stamp of approval on a war policy against terrorism that, 10 years-plus later, we’re still using,” Durbin said in a breakfast interview at The Wall Street Journal.
Among the questions, Durbin said, was whether drones could be used as a lethal weapon and against whom. “Is this a wide-open opportunity for any president to use lethal force anywhere against anyone?” he asked.
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Republican opponents of former Sen. Chuck Hagel’s stalled bid to become defense secretary said Sunday that they’ll probably allow his Senate confirmation vote to proceed unless material more damaging to the nominee — and, by extension, the Obama administration — surfaces in the coming week.
Critics said the decorated Vietnam combat veteran is a “radical” unqualified to lead the U.S. military. A top White House official expressed “grave concern” over the delayed confirmation vote, adding that there was nothing to worry about in any disclosures that may yet come.
“No, I don’t believe he’s qualified,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said of his fellow Republican and former Senate colleague. “But I don’t believe that we should hold up his nomination any further, because I think it’s (been) a reasonable amount of time to have questions answered.”
McCain and other Republicans have angered President Barack Obama by delaying him from rounding out his second-term national security team, which includes Hagel and John Brennan, the White House counterterrorism adviser who is awaiting confirmation to become CIA director. Former Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry assumed his post as secretary of state at the beginning of February.
Critics contend that Hagel, who snubbed McCain by staying neutral in the 2008 presidential race between McCain and Obama, isn’t supportive enough of U.S. ally Israel and is unreasonably sympathetic to Iran, which has defied international pressure to halt its pursuit of material that could be used to make nuclear weapons.
Hagel’s nomination also became ensnared in Republican lawmakers’ questioning of how the White House handled the Sept. 11 attack against a U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, in which the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed. Hagel was not involved in the administration’s response.
GOP senators also have challenged Hagel’s past statements and votes on nuclear weapons, and his criticism of President George W. Bush’s administration.
Republicans last week delayed a confirmation vote, but have indicated that one will be allowed when senators return from a break on Feb. 25.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., another leader of the opposition to Hagel, referred to a letter he received from Hagel in response to questions about past statements on Israel. Graham said that, as a result, he’ll take Hagel “at his word, unless something new comes along.”
Still, the weeklong delay buys Hagel’s opponents even more time to rally additional opposition.
White House chief of staff Denis McDonough, making his first appearances on the Sunday talk shows in his new role, was asked if the delays in filling out Obama’s Cabinet presented a threat to national security.
“It’s a grave concern,” he said.
Hagel “has one thing in mind: how do we protect the country,” McDonough said, adding that there was nothing to worry about in any disclosures about Hagel that may still come.
Graham said senators were taking seriously their responsibility to scrutinize “one of the most unqualified, radical choices for secretary of defense in a very long time.”
Last week, Obama criticized Republican senators for delaying the nomination, accusing them of playing politics with national security.
“It’s just unfortunate that this kind of politics intrudes at a time when I’m still presiding over a war in Afghanistan and I need a secretary of defense who is coordinating with our allies to make sure that our troops are getting the kind of strategy and mission that they deserve,” he said during a Google-sponsored online forum.
McDonough appeared on ABC’s “This Week,” while McCain spoke on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and Graham was interviewed by “Fox News Sunday.”
By delaying a confirmation vote on Chuck Hagel to be defense secretary, Senate Republicans have forced Leon Panetta to remain on the job he is eager to give up. But they’ve also given the White House an opportunity to cast the GOP as obstructing President Barack Obama’s assembly of a second-term national security team.
Senate Republicans temporarily blocked a Hagel confirmation vote on Thursday, insisting that the administration must first answer more questions about its handling of a terrorist attack last September on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.
Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, called it “political posturing.”
“Just when you thought things couldn’t get worse, it got worse,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said after the GOP forced the delay.
The Senate action amounted to a parliamentary maneuver, with Democrats needing 60 votes for Hagel’s confirmation to move forward. It fell two votes short.
Still, Hagel is likely to win confirmation on a mostly party-line vote after the Senate returns from next week’s recess. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said he expects many of his Republican colleagues to join him then to end the debate.
Alexander stopped short of predicting Hagel will be confirmed, but that is almost assured if he only needs a simple majority, and Democrats control the Senate by a 55-45 margin. Alexander called Thursday’s vote “unfortunate” and “unnecessary” because Hagel’s nomination came up on the Senate floor too quickly — just two days after it was approved by a divided Armed Services Committee.
The unprecedented stall tactic against a defense secretary nominee raised the rancor of frustrated Democrats, who immediately accused Republicans of threatening security and said they unnecessarily undercut U.S. credibility abroad.
“The world is too dangerous to have this period of uncertainty,” said Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The nomination of John Brennan as CIA director was also delayed; the Senate Intelligence Committee pushed off a vote amid Republican demands that the White House turn over more details about drone strikes against terror suspects and about the Benghazi attack.
In contrast, the Senate swiftly confirmed John Kerry to succeed Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state.
The Pentagon and CIA will continue under their current leadership, and Panetta will stay on as defense secretary until his successor is confirmed. At a Pentagon award ceremony for Clinton, Panetta said it was fitting to recognize her accomplishments as secretary of state on Valentine’s Day. And he said the second-best Valentine’s Day present would be for the Senate to confirm Hagel and allow Panetta and his wife to “get the hell out of town.” He said he’s got his belongings packed.
Reid said he hoped to proceed with an up-or-down vote on Feb. 26 and suggested that the Republicans’ maneuvers have left the Pentagon leaderless.
“What does that do to our standing in the world community?” he asked in remarks on the Senate floor.
Although he had made no secret of his hope to retire by now, Panetta will be back in the Pentagon next week.
His press secretary, George Little, said Panetta will fly to Brussels for a NATO meeting late next week where allies will consider the size and scope of a post-combat mission in Afghanistan. The U.S. is hoping allied nations will contribute troops and money for continued training of Afghan security forces, which are to be fully responsible for security by the end of 2014.
Obama himself suggested that Hagel’s absence from the Brussels meeting could hurt the war effort. He also criticized Republicans for blocking the Hagel nomination and forcing him to win 60 votes instead of the usual majority.
“It’s just unfortunate that this kind of politics intrudes at a time when I’m still presiding over a war in Afghanistan, and I need a secretary of defense who is coordinating with our allies to make sure that our troops are getting the kind of strategy and mission that they deserve,” the president said in an online chat sponsored by Google.
A veterans group that is backing Hagel’s nomination also lamented the delay.
“Our enemies look for any moment — however brief — of weakness,” said Jon Soltz, a Iraq War veteran and chairman of VoteVets.org.
Republicans, led by Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona, insisted the White House tell them more about how Obama handled the Benghazi crisis.
Seeking to break the logjam, the White House responded to a Feb. 12 letter from Graham, McCain and Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., to Obama asking whether he spoke to any Libyan government official during the Sept. 11 assault about getting assistance. Republicans have sought to portray Obama as being out of touch during the attack.
Clinton called Libyan President Mohamed Magariaf on Obama’s behalf on Sept. 11 to coordinate additional support to protect Americans in Libya, White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler wrote in the Feb. 14 response. Obama spoke to Magariaf on the evening of Sept. 12, she said.
Associated Press writers Richard Lardner, Jim Kuhnhenn, Donna Cassata, Laurie Kellman and Darlene Superville contributed to this report.
A moderate Republican senator said Wednesday she’ll oppose the confirmation of Chuck Hagel to become President Barack Obama’s secretary of defense, while other GOP senators signaled they may delay a floor vote on the nomination unless the White House provides more information about the deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, had been viewed as a possible supporter of Hagel, but she said Wednesday that his views on the most critical threats facing the United States are “unsettling.”
In a four-page statement, Collins said Hagel was unwilling to ask the European Union to designate Hezbollah a terrorist organization in 2006, and he has been hesitant to back the use of all non-military options, such as unilateral sanctions, to pressure Iran into ceasing its nuclear program.
As Collins voiced her opposition, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., set the stage on Wednesday for a full Senate vote on Hagel’s nomination. Reid filed a motion to limit debate and force a vote, which is expected to be held on Friday. Democrats hold a 55-45 edge in the Senate and have the numbers to confirm Hagel on a majority vote, but would need the support of five Republicans to clear the way for an up-or-down vote on Hagel.
A bitterly divided Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday voted to approve Hagel by a 14-11 vote, with all the panel’s Democrats backing him to succeed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. The committee’s Republicans were unified in their opposition to their onetime colleague, a former two-term Republican senator from Nebraska and twice-wounded Vietnam combat veteran.
“I am unable to support Senator Hagel to be the next secretary of defense because I do not believe his past positions, votes, and statements match the challenges of our time, and his presentations at his (confirmation) hearing did nothing to ease my doubts,” Collins said. “I regret having to reach that conclusion given our personal relationship and my admiration for Senator Hagel’s military service. But I have concluded that he is not well-suited for the tremendous challenges our country faces during this dangerous era in our history.”
Collins said she would not join in a filibuster to block a final vote.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Wednesday that he would vote against ending debate on Hagel’s nomination to be defense secretary because he wants more information on Obama’s actions on the night of the Sept. 11 raid on the mission in Benghazi. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans died in the Sept. 11 raid.
Graham, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., wrote to Obama on Tuesday and asked whether he spoke to any Libyan government official during the assault.
“There seems to not be much interest to hold this president accountable for a national security breakdown that led to the first ambassador being killed in the line of duty in over 30 years,” Graham said. “No, the debate on Chuck Hagel is not over. It has not been serious. We don’t have the information we need. And I’m going to fight the idea of jamming somebody through until we get answers about what the president did personally when it came to the Benghazi debacle.”
McCain declined to say Wednesday whether he would try to filibuster or delay Hagel’s confirmation if Obama did not provide an answer. “My position right now is I want an answer to the question,” he said.
After the committee vote, McCain said he did not want a filibuster of Hagel’s nomination. “We have not filibustered a Cabinet appointee in the past and I believe that we should move forward with his nomination, bring it to the floor and vote up or down,” he said.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said he’s confident the White House will supply the information and that Hagel will be confirmed.
Chuck Hagel — Republican, twice-wounded Vietnam combat veteran and former Nebraska senator — faces his first major hurdle in his bid to become the nation’s defense secretary as a bitterly divided Senate Armed Services Committee pushes toward a vote on his nomination.
The panel is scheduled to meet Tuesday afternoon to discuss and vote on President Barack Obama’s choice to succeed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who is stepping down after four years as CIA director and Pentagon chief. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is pressing for a full Senate vote on either Wednesday or Thursday.
Hagel faces fierce opposition from Republicans who have challenged his past statements and votes on Israel, Iran, Iraq and nuclear weapons. Committee Republicans forced a delay in the expected committee vote last week when they pressed Hagel for more information about his personal finances.
The panel’s chairman, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said the GOP demands were beyond the scope of those traditionally asked of previous nominees, Republican and Democrat — a point echoed by his Republican colleague, Sen. John McCain of Arizona. Levin set a committee vote that will probably break along party lines — 14 Democrats for Hagel, 12 Republicans against their former colleague — just hours before Obama’s State of the Union address to Congress.
More critical to whether Republicans drag out the nomination is the closed-door, weekly Republican luncheon Tuesday where Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., will determine whether GOP lawmakers have the inclination and votes to filibuster a president’s Cabinet choice. Such a move would be unprecedented in the Senate, where Republicans and Democrats have argued that a president’s nominee should get an up or down vote.
Late Monday, McCain met privately with several committee Republicans and urged them not to filibuster the Hagel nomination, arguing that it would set a bad precedent and pointing out that the roles could be reversed someday with a Republican president and GOP-controlled Senate.
“I’m encouraging my colleagues if they want to vote against Sen. Hagel that’s one thing and that’s a principled stand,” McCain told a group of reporters. “We do not want to filibuster. We have not filibustered a Cabinet appointee in the past and I believe that we should move forward with his nomination, bring it to the floor and vote up or down.”
McCain has not said how he would vote on the nomination, but has indicated he was learning against confirmation.
Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, said he is determined to do everything in his power to scuttle the nomination, though he told reporters he does not want to string out the process. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has signaled that he would block the nominations of Hagel and CIA Director-designate John Brennan if he doesn’t get more answers about the deadly raid on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, last September.
“I’m insisting that the president answer … what he did that night. That’s all. It would take five minutes to answer my question,” Graham told reporters. “It’s the only leverage I have.”
The White House pushed back Monday, with spokesman Jay Carney insisting the administration had answered lingering questions about Libya and the president’s actions on that fateful day.
“What is unfortunate here is the continuing attempt to politicize an issue, in this case through nominees that themselves had nothing to do with Benghazi, and to do so in a way that only does harm to our national security interests,” Carney said. “Sen. Hagel, Mr. Brennan, they need to be confirmed.”
All 55 Democrats are expected to back Hagel, and two Republicans — Sens. Thad Cochran of Mississippi and Mike Johanns of Nebraska — have said they will vote for the nominee. At least five Republicans, including McCain, have said they oppose a filibuster despite their reservations or opposition toward the nominee.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said he would not support a filibuster.
“Chuck and I have been friends. I have to say I was disappointed in his performance” at his confirmation hearing, Hatch said.
Hagel seemed ill-prepared under withering cross-examination from committee Republicans in nearly eight hours of testimony on Jan. 31. He was repeatedly pressed about past statements and votes on Israel, Iran and nuclear weapons, with GOP lawmakers suggesting he wasn’t sufficiently supportive of Israel or anti-Iran.
About a dozen Republicans have said they will oppose their former colleague, and several others have indicated they are likely to vote no.
Bruised and battered, Chuck Hagel emerged from his grueling confirmation hearing with solid Democratic support for his nomination to be President Barack Obama’s next defense secretary and relentless opposition from Republicans who repeatedly challenged their former GOP colleague.
Mathematically, Hagel has the edge as he looks to succeed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta as the nation’s 24th Pentagon chief. Democrats hold a 14-12 advantage on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said the panel could vote as early as next Thursday, contingent on Hagel’s prompt response on some lingering questions.
Levin expressed optimism about Hagel’s prospects and praised his performance in nearly eight hours of testimony Thursday.
“I think his answers were honest and forthright and he did very well,” Levin told reporters. “I hope that there will be some, who maybe were skeptical but who are undecided before this hearing, will maybe now look at him in a more favorable light. But I think there are a whole lot of folks who basically decided before the hearing that they were going to vote against him.”
Unclear is whether Republicans will try to block the nomination of a Cabinet choice, especially when they have argued — when a Republican occupied the White House — that presidents should have their nominees.
Hagel struggled at times as GOP senators challenged him on issues ranging from Israel and Iran to his support for a group that advocates the elimination of nuclear weapons, repeatedly pressing him on past statements, votes and even letters he declined to sign. Refusing to show any frustration or anger, Hagel defended his record.
The former two-term Republican senator from Nebraska described his views as mainstream and closely aligned with those of Obama, the Democrat who nominated him. But several GOP members of the committee sought to portray him as radical and unsteady. Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., called his ideas “extreme” and “far to the left” of Obama.
Hagel said he believes America “must engage — not retreat — in the world” and insisted that his record is consistent on that point.
He pointed to Iran and its nuclear ambitions as an example of an urgent national security threat that should be addressed first by attempting to establish dialogue with Iranian rulers, although he said he would not rule out using military force.
“I think we’re always on higher ground in every way — international law, domestic law, people of the world, people of the region to be with us on this — if we have … gone through every possibility to resolve this in a responsible, peaceful way, rather than going to war,” he said.
He pushed back on the notion — first raised by one of his harshest Republican critics, Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma — that he favors a policy of appeasement.
“I think engagement is clearly in our interest,” Hagel told Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., who denounced the idea of negotiating with a “terrorist state.”
“That’s not negotiation,” Hagel said. “Engagement is not appeasement. Engagement is not surrender.”
The nominee’s fiercest exchange came with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a fellow Vietnam veteran and onetime close friend. Politics and Hagel’s evolving opposition to the Iraq war caused a split between the two men that was on full display.
McCain suggested that Hagel and his critics were not quibbling over small matters.
“They are not reasonable people disagreeing; they are fundamental disagreements. Our concerns pertain to the quality of your professional judgment and your worldview on critical areas of national security,” he said.
McCain pressed Hagel on whether he was right or wrong about his opposition to President George W. Bush’s decision to send an extra 30,000 troops to Iraq in 2007 at a point when the war seemed in danger of being lost. Hagel, who voted to authorize military force in Iraq, later opposed the conflict, comparing it to Vietnam and arguing that it shifted the focus from Afghanistan.
“Were you right? Were you correct in your assessment?” McCain asked.
“I would defer to the judgment of history to sort that out,” Hagel said as the two men talked over each other.
“The committee deserves your judgment as to whether you were right or wrong about the surge,” McCain insisted.
Unable to elicit a simple response, McCain said the record should show that Hagel refused to answer. And he made it clear that he would have the final word — with his vote, which he said would be influenced by Hagel’s refusal to answer yes or no.
“I think history has already made a judgment about the surge, sir, and you’re on the wrong side of it,” he said.
Responding to criticism from outside GOP-leaning groups, Hagel repeated his regrets about using the term “Jewish lobby” to refer to pro-Israel groups. He said he should have used another term and should not have said those groups have intimidated members of the Senate into favoring actions contrary to U.S. interests.
“I’m sorry and I regret it,” Hagel said. “On the use of ‘intimidation,’ I should have used ‘influence,’ I think would have been more appropriate.”
At one point, Hagel mistakenly said the Obama policy toward Iran is “containment” even though the former senator has said all options, including military force, should be on the table. He was handed a note and corrected himself.
Hagel, 66, would be the lone Republican in Obama’s Cabinet, the first Vietnam veteran to be defense secretary and the first enlisted man to take the post.