Closed Chuck Hagel confirmation session

The former Republican senator can expect a bumpy ride as he answers questions on how he would play the role of President Barack Obama’s new defence secretary. The Vietnam War veteran needs to persuade at least five of his former colleagues to support him to avoid a filibuster that would torpedo his appointment.

Ben Fenton, from the FT’s Live News Desk, and Johanna Kassel follow the hearing with contributions from our man in the room, the FT’s Washington Bureau Chief Richard McGregor.

Ben Fenton here on the FT’s Live News Desk. The hearing of the Senate armed services committee is due to start at 09.30EST, (14.30GMT and all times in the live blog will be in GMT). Hagel, 66, the former senator from Nebraska, has aroused more opposition than any other of President Barack Obama’s nominees for high office in his second administration.

Richard McGregor, the FT’s Washington bureau chief, is in the queue for the session and sent this image.

Among the many controversies Hagel will be confronted with will be his earlier opposition to openly gay men and women serving in the armed forces, his opposition to the 2003 war in Iraq and, perhaps most importantly, the “principled realism” which he says embodies his attitude to America’s place in the world.

His most bitter opponent is likely to be a fellow Vietnam veteran and a man he once counted as a close friend, Senator John McCain of Arizona. Hagel refused to endorse McCain’s candidacy for president in 2008, saying the pair “fundamentally disagree on the future course of our foreign policy and our role in the world”.

In return, McCain said last week:
“My biggest concern is his overall attitude about the United States, our role in the world, particularly in the Middle East.
“We’ll be talking more about them in the hearing.”

Bob Woodward, Washington veteran commentator, had this to say on the importance of Hagel and Obama seeing the world in very similar ways on CBS TV today.


Hagel will also face questions on the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, due by the end of next year, his support for the reduction of the US nuclear arsenal from 5,000 to about 900 warheads and steep cuts in Pentagon budgets. The first tranche of those cuts may come in the “sequestration”, automatic reductions of $465bn over 10 years that were part of a 2011 deal to lift the federal debt ceiling. They fall due in March.

The Middle East, Iran and Iraq will also be hot issues.

Quite a lot of the hearing is likely to be pre-cooked, as Hagel has seen the questions in advance and his answers have been submitted already. Those lengthy exchanges have been leaked to the press.

The stakes are indeed high, according to Geoff Dyer, the FT’s Pentagon correspondent, who wrote on Wednesday about the prospect of a seminal debate on America’s global role.

As for the expected clash between the two men whose reputations were forged on their experiences in Vietnam – Hagel as an infantryman, McCain as a US Navy pilot who spent six years as a PoW – Dyer sees it is a moment in history.

The debate between the two men could be one of the defining moments of President Barack Obama’s second term, a clash over two very different visions for America’s global role, between Mr Hagel’s “principled realism” and Mr McCain’s full-throated defence of American exceptionalism.

With the election of Mr Obama, who was 14 when the war ended, America appeared to have escaped the divisive legacy of Vietnam that clouded politics for a generation. Yet if Mr Hagel is confirmed, the three most prominent public figures apart from the president in the country’s foreign policy debates – [former Senator John] Kerry in the state department, Mr Hagel at the Pentagon and Mr McCain, the most influential figure in Senate – will all derive a substantial part of their political legitimacy from their Vietnam experiences.

But perhaps the most obvious question, asked by, is whether or not a man who has never held a high administrative office is capable of controlling the biggest military power on the planet with its oceans of bureaucracy and a constant need for reform.

Senators are filing into the room for the confirmation hearing.

Hagel is in the room and the hearing is about to start. It’s a huge room and there are banks of photographers in front of the nominees.

As Richard McGregor says:

The queue to get into the Senate Armed Forces confirmation hearing for Chuck Hagel’s nomination to be Secretary of Defence already stretches through two corridors of the Dirksen Senate office building. Washington hasn’t seen a knock down drag out confirmation hearing for a while and clearly demand is high.

The gavel is banged and the session is called to order.

Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, a Democrat, is in the chair. Jim Inhofe is the senior Republican member of the committee.

Levin calls Hagel “an old friend” but then tells him there are few jobs that are more demanding than the one he has been nominated to do. He would be the first Vietnam veteran and the first enlisted man (other ranks in UK English), to serve as defence secretary, the chairman says.

Levin is laying out how important will be Hagel’s role in overseeing the replacement of US troops in Afghanistan, the situation in Syria, as well as the instability caused by the Arab Spring and the “continued unpredictable behaviour of North Korea”

You can watch the hearing here:

Levin says Hagel has said he will talk to Iran about some issues which he and other senators would not approve of. But he adds that Hagel has since then reassured him on that point.

There is a list of Hagel quotes, mostly on Israel and the Middle East, that Levin is asking the nominee to explain before he gets their nod for the post.

Richard McGregor reports from the room:

The senate hearings are not unlike a large trial, except that the crowd hushes not when the judges walk in, but the person who plays the role of the defendant – in this case Chuck Hagel.

Mr Hagel has bought strong ‘seconds’ with him to the hearing. Former senators and defence heavyweights, Republican John Warner of Virginia and Democrat Sam Nunn of Georgia, will introduce him. Jim Jones, Barack Obama’s former National Security Adviser, is also there.

Jim Inhofe says Hagel is “a good man”, but then goes on to say that he won’t vote for him because of his “deeply troubling” record in which he “appeases our enemies and shuns our friends”.

Richard McGregor says:

Carl Levin, the Democrat chair. talks about some of Hagel’s past “troubling” statements on Syria and Iran, a sign of the hurdles that the nominee must overcome. The key may be John McCain, once a close colleague of Hagel until the pair fell out over the Iraq War.

Inhofe lists the statements and voting record which he says illustrates Hagel’s record of being far too nice to Iran and other enemies of the US. He also says that Hagel has been holding meetings with senators in which he has “walked back or altered his position possibly for reasons of political expediency”.

Inhofe hits to the gut:

“He is the wrong person to lead the Pentagon at this perilous and consequential time.”

Richard McGregor says:

Senator Inhofe, a Republican, Oklahoma, opens the case for the opposition – says Mr Hagel has shown a “lack of steadfast oppositon” to polices that undermine US power around the world and has reversed his position on numerous different topics on the grounds of “political expediency.” He also complains that Mr Hagel has not provided a number of the speeches he has made in past year after he left the Senate.

Hagel is being “introduced” by two former senators, Sam Nunn, a Democrat from Georgia and John Warner, a Republican from Virginia.

They are giving a list of reasons for why Hagel will be a reliable and balanced politician to offer advice to President Obama, but also a successful businessman in his own right.

Sorry, but we are having some technical problems with our live blog. Hope to be fixed soon.

Hagel has been on a “charm offensive” according to the Washington Post.

John Warner says Hagel and John Kerry, confirmed last week as Obama’s secretary of state are a “Band of Brothers”.

Warner signs off saying to Hagel:

You’re on your own now.

Hagel is indeed now on his own….giving testimony to the committee.

Richard McGregor has sent a link to the full statement that Hagel is about to give.

Here is what the Republican Jewish Coalition says about Hagel’s record on Israel:

The RJC outlined a number of instances highlighting Hagel’s anti-Israel record: In August 2006, Hagel was one of only 12 Senators who refused to write the EU asking them to declare Hizbullah a terrorist organization; In October 2000, Hagel was one of only 4 Senators who refused to sign a Senate letter in support of Israel; November 2001, Hagel was one of only 11 Senators who refused to sign a letter urging President Bush to continue his policy of not meeting with Yasser Arafat until he took steps to end the violence against Israel; In December 2005, Hagel was one of only 27 Senators who refused to sign a letter to President Bush to pressure the Palestinian Authority to ban terrorist groups from participating in Palestinian legislative elections; June 2004, Hagel refused to sign a letter urging President Bush to emphasize Iran’s nuclear program at the G-8 summit.

Hagel jokes that his huge entourage includes “…family, many friends, people I owe money to…” Gets a laugh from the senators.

Hagel says he is proud of his record because he has tried to build it by living his life as honestly as he knew how.

America has and must maintain the strongest military in the world, Hagel tells the senators.

America must engage in the world, not retreat but engage in the world. I have been consistent in this regard.

Hagel is going through the issues that matter to Americans: the size of their military, the nuclear arsenal, the security of Israel and others, on each one laying out a cautious and conservative approach.

As Hagel reads out a list of his attitudes to the issues that he has been said to be “troubling” on in the past, Inhofe’s earlier words, that Hagel might have been saying all this to his former colleagues for “reasons of political expediency”, resonate.

Technical issues again, I’m afraid. Need to take a quick break.

Levin, the committee chairman, says the committee will carry on working through a Senate vote and through lunch. He is clearly settling in for a long ride.

“We hope to finish today…no matter how long it takes today.”

The first question is from Levin and asks Hagel what he thinks will happen if the “sequester” the huge budget cut that is hovering over the head of the Pentagon. Hagel says it will affect not just the flow of dollars, but take all the flexibility out of planning for the military. There will be redundancies, ships won’t be able to steam, troops won’t be able to train.

Levin moves onto Iran and asks if Hagel agrees with Obama that “all options should be on the table” to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Not surprisingly, Hagel says he does agree, strongly.

Hagel is asked whether he agrees with sanctions against Iran, which in the past he voted against and Levin quotes him as saying that it was not in US interests to isolate Iran.

The nominee says it was a different time and he did not agree with the objectives involved in bringing sanctions against Iran.

Each senator is going to have 8 minutes of questions at Hagel first and then may well come back for a second round.

Levin asks what he thinks the size of the “residual force” of US personnel in Afghanistan, which will take part in training. Hagel says it is not a number he wants to give until it has been properly discussed with President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan.

Inhofe has taken over the questioning.

He asks Hagel if it is true he voted against marking Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah terrorist organisations, as well as his failure to vote for sanctions on Iran and to sign a letter supporting Israel in 2001.

Hagel says yes.

Inhofe says that he is uncomfortable with the amount of waste that the military makes in its spending. He says the US Air Force spent $59 a gallon on petrol (gas). It isn’t clear quite what he is referring to, although Pentagon waste is an old story. Inhofe seems to imply that this is a way of covering up the use of Pentagon budgets for other spending projects.

Hagel promises to spend defence dollars on defence spending. Inhofe thanks him.

As a curveball and last question, Inhofe asks why it is that the Iranian foreign minister should have expressed his support for Hagel’s nomination as defence secretary.

Hagel says:

I have a difficult enough time with American politics. I have no idea.

Hagel is getting support now from Democratic senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, who says 13 former secretaries of defence have supported his nomination in writing.

Invited by Reed, Hagel defends his record as a supporter of Israel, another of his Achilles heels.

John McCain takes his turn.

I am pleased to see an old friend here in front of the committee.

McCain says they have “fundamental disagreements” and that “we” have concerns about Hagel’s world view. He cites Hagel’s opposition to the “surge” of troops in Irq in 2007 and arguments he had with Bush administration and its conduct of the war in Iraq.

(Nobody would guess that McCain and Hagel, both Vietnam veterans, were once very close friends. The body language between the two is very cool indeed.)

McCain is being aggressive:

I want to know if you were right or wrong (about the surge). I want a yes or no answer.

He asks him over and over again to answer whether he was right or wrong. Hagel refuses.

Let the record show that you refused to answer that question.

Hagel says he will let history be a judge of whether he was right or wrong to oppose the Surge. McCain crosses his arms and leans forwards, looking very unhappy with what he is hearing.

It is a fundamental disagreement Senator Hagel.

I think history has already made a judgement on the surge and you are on the wrong side of it. Your refusal to answer that question will influence my decision of whether or not to vote for you.

McCain is not letting up on Hagel. He is now moving on to Syria.

McCain asks if the US should impose a no-fly zone in Syria and arming the resistance. How many more would have to die before you would support that? he asks Hagel.

Hagel says only that those were options that the government should consider. McCain continues to look very unhappy.

McCain’s time is up (which must be a relief to Hagel) and he gets some succour from the next senator, Bill Nelson of Florida, a Democrat, who says that the entire Senate was misled by the Bush administration about the reasons for going to war in Iraq.

Nelson invites Hagel to talk about the experiences of being in Vietnam.

Hagel says he does not see the whole world through the lens of Vietnam.

Another Republican, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, takes over the questioning now. He is troubled that Hagel was signed up to a group called Global Zero which wanted to remove all nuclear weapons from the US arsenal.

(So far, we have had real fireworks mainly from John McCain. There must have been some history with those two judging on the rancour of the exchange between them. McCain could not have been more clear about the extent to which he thought Hagel was in the wrong.)

Sessions asks whether Hagel had advocated in a report for Global Zero the possibility of unilaterally reducing US nuclear weapons, including the removal of B-52 weapons or tactical nuclear weapons. He cites an expert panel of senators that completely disagreed with those views.

(This has been a speech by Sessions with a question tacked on the end, really, but it does show Hagel as a naïve analyst of world security affairs.)

Sessions says he is “uneasy” at the vision Hagel laid out in that report. The nominee says there is no debate about the US’s need for a strong nuclear deterrent.

This prospective secretary of defence would never do anything that would minimise or harm or downgrade that reality.

He says the report was about “illustrative possibilities…what could be done”.

Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat from Missouri, says the committee needs to be bipartisan and she hopes that it will continue.

Hagel says, prompted by McCaskill, that Iran is a sponsor of terrorism and should be subject to sanctions. He says he does not agree with the unilateral removal of US nuclear weapons.

(The pattern here seems to be that the Republican members make accusations against Hagel; Hagel blocks; a Democratic member gives him a softball way of negating the accusation made by the last Republican.)

Hagel says, prompted by McCaskill, that Iran is a sponsor of terrorism and should be subject to sanctions. He says he does not agree with the unilateral removal of US nuclear weapons.

(The pattern here seems to be that the Republican members make accusations against Hagel; Hagel blocks; a Democratic member gives him a softball way of negating the accusation made by the last Republican.)

McCaskill says she is sure the US is making the same mistakes in Afghanistan that it did in Iraq, failing to build infrastructure or strengthen its allies in the country.

Senator Saxby Chambliss, Republican from Georgia suggests he might be more friendly to Hagel, calling him “Chuck” and describing how friendly they were as senators.
But he says he will need to deal with his stance over Iran and how to stop it becoming a nuclear power if he is going to get Chambliss’ confirmation vote.

Chambliss asks:

If your position is not containment of Iran, Chuck, what is the redline? How far do we let it go?

McCain and Hagel in happier times, here with Senator Ted Kennedy :

Hagel explains why he did not vote to designate the Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organisation to support a fellow senator who said we have never designated a part of a legitimate government, a state, as a terrorist organisation. It would have legal complications for the president in the future.

Hagel says he thinks President Obama has gone as far as he should do in public to set out where the red line should be in dealing with Iran. It is far smarter to face these very serious threats by doing what the president is doing, getting the world community behind us with UN sanctions which are tough and have a tremendous impact.

To have International law, domestic law, the people of the world and the region with us to try everything short of war, (that is what is best). Engagement is not appeasement, it is not surrender. We are always wiser and smarter to take that approach initially.

(Hagel got a relatively easy ride from Senator Chambliss, who seemed content with the answers that he gave.)

Invited by Senator Mark Udall, Democrat from Colorado to declare his support for Israel, Hagel does so volubly. He also picks up a softball from Udall to say that his vote on the Revolutionary Guard was a technical one aimed at protecting the right of the US Congress to declare war.

Danielle Pletka vice-president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, points out that Hagel has “misspoken” again, saying that he agreed with the president’s policy on the containment of Iran.
In fact, she says, Obama doesn’t support containment of Iran.

Hagel corrects himself a few moments later, after a note is passed by one of his staffers.

Pletka tweets:

Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi now picks up Hagel for saying in the past that the “Jewish lobby” used intimidation to get its way in Washington. The nominee regrets using the phrase and said he should have said “pro-Israel lobby” and he should have said “use of influence” instead of “intimidation”.

(Hagel is having to unpick his entire statement now and present himself as a strong supporter of Israel. He says, however, that he has never “done” political expediency. He is not looking particularly comfortable on this ground.)

(There are several empty seats at the committee hearing at the moment – a Senate vote is taking place and senior members who have already had their first go at questioning Hagel have toddled off to cast their vote and possibly grab a spot of lunch too.)

After a 15-minute break, the Hagel confirmation hearing is back in action.

Senator Kelly Ayotte, Republican from New Hampshire, has the stage now. She is going back to the vote that Hagel opposed to demarcate the Iranian Republican Guard as a terrorist organisation. He looks a bit glum, but does not seem too troubled by his voting record.

Here is the report by Richard McGregor, FT Washington bureau chief, filed for on the early stages of the hearing.

A tweet from the executive director of the Emergency Committee for Israel

Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, calls the hearing “a toxic process”, which is quite strong.

Manchin became a senator in 2010 in a special election.

(It’s striking that the Democratic senators make a point of thanking the former Republican senator for his service to his country – as a soldier and a politician – while most of his own party members do not.)

Just after writing that, Senator Deb Fischer, Republican from Nebraska, Hagel’s own state, thanks him for his service to his country and to Nebraska.

But Fischer is no friend. She says she is very concerned not that Hagel has changed his views for reasons of political expediency, but that he hasn’t changed his views at all.

Fischer goes back to talk about the report, of which Hagel was one of five co-authors, and asks him if he agrees that the US intercontinental ballistic missile force had lost its central purpose.
Hagel says the report was just a series of scenarios, not a recommendation. One of which talked about the diminishing relevance of ballistic missiles.
The two Nebraskans – ICBMs are based in the state – are now arguing about what the report says.

Blake Hounsell, managing editor of Foreign Policy magazine, tweets:

Richard McGregor blogs from inside the room:

When the hearing resumed after a 15-minute lunchtime break, much of the packed crowd that was here for the morning was gone. I am wondering whether the heat has gone from the hearing as well.

Hagel has largely stood his ground, or at least folded his past opinions into line with the administration’s. He has faced tough questioning from numerous Republican senators, though only outright hostility from two – Jim Inhofe and John McCain. Still to come is Lindsay Graham, one of the most hawkish Republicans on the committee and an outspoken critic of Mr Hagel.

[Hello all, this is Johanna Kassel taking over from Ben Fenton as he heads off for the day]

Richard McGregor points out that politicians outside of the Armed Services Committee are taking a keen interest in today’s proceedings.

Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican senator, and a rising star in the party, says he can’t vote for Mr Hagel’s confirmation. A number of other Republican senators have indicated they will also oppose him. But there is still no sense of an overwhelming movement against him. We hope to get a vote in the committee this afternoon. Mr Rubio is not on the Armed Services Committee

Senator Lindsey Graham, a staunch conservative, is revisiting Hagel’s comments on Israel. Hagel again says it was a poor choice of words that he regrets.

Senator Graham has been one of the most vocal opponents of Hagel’s nomination, speaking publicly for weeks about his concerns.

As the FT wrote even before Hagel’s nomination,

Lindsey Graham, a Republican senator from South Carolina and a prominent defence hawk, said on Sunday he was inclined not to support his former Senate colleague because of his “antagonistic” attitude to Israel.

“This is an in-your-face nomination by the president for all those who are supportive of Israel,” Mr Graham told CNN.

Despite the questions that frequently focus on single words or phrases of Hagel’s previous statements, he has remained fairly calm in his delivery.

As Richard McGregor says

Mr Hagel has so far been steady in today’s hearing, even boring, which may be exactly what he has intended. But he has made a number of missteps. He said he supported a policy of “containment” towards Iran, a big no-no. The Obama administration backs preventing a nuclear Iran, not containing one. Mr Hagel quickly corrected himself. Under questioning from Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, he also clarified a comment from this morning that Iran had a “legitimate” government. He said meant “recognisable”, in that it was recognised by the UN.

Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut is next up, he’s a Democrat. He continues to press Hagel on why he did not sign a letter of support for Israel. He says this is worth considering, echoing many members of the committee.

Here is Richard’s take on Senator Graham’s questioning

The Republican of South Carolina is a former military lawyer. His skills were on display in the hearing. Unlike, most senators, who made short speeches, alternatively hostile or praising, he sharply questioned Mr Hagel in his alloted seven minutes and quickly had the nominee on the back foot.

Mr Graham opened by asking about Mr Hagel’s now infamous statement: “The Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here … I’m not an Israeli senator. I’m a United States senator. Again, I have always argued against some of the dumb things they do because I don’t think it’s in the interest of Israel.”

Asked to name a single members of Congress who was intimidated by the “Jewish lobby”, and a single “dumb” thing Israel had done, Mr Hagel was dumbstruck. He said he couldn’t name any.

Mr Hagel also struggled under questioning about why he has not signed previous letters about designating Hezbollah a terrorist organisation. “The lack of your signature sends chills up my spine,” said Senator Graham.

Senator Blumenthal is now questioning about a specific fleet of submarines, looking into the distant future of 2031.
He is asking for Hagel’s commitment to 12 submarines instead of 10.

Hagel gives that commitment to support the fleet, which is key in the nuclear deterrent programme.

Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri is next up, he’s a Republican, formerly a member of the House.

Here is Marco Rubio’s tweet on not voting for Hagel

Senator Blunt is citing a Wall Street Journal editorial about the consequences of two wars.

The editorial expresses concerns about military technology and being at the forefront of technology and strategy. Senator Blunt references former defence secretary Gates phrase “procurement holiday”

Should be noted that a major Boeing defence production facility is in St Louis, the largest city in Senator Blunt’s home state of Missouri, so he has a few million dogs in this fight.

Also with a large stake, Senator Joe Donnelly of Indiana, notes that he has the fourth largest contingent of national guard members in his state. He’s the next up for questioning

Again being questioned on budget, Hagel notes that the entire budget is a question of priorities and a matter of what the current foreign policy landscape is.

Senator Donnelly is also concerned about how the national guard will be maintained after the wars conclude and their services may not be needed.

Hagel says the guard will be maintained and he believes that the chief of the national guard will be added to the elite group of Joint Chiefs, which consult the president.

The suicide rate of active duty members and veterans is a major issue, Senator Donnelly says. This has become a public relations concern as well

Hagel reasserts himself on his views of Pakistan that the US cannot walk away from the region even though it is messy and difficult.

We now move onto Senator Ted Cruz, the Republican from Texas, whose name is synonymous with the Tea Party. He’s likely to be very conservative.

He is pressing Hagel on not turning over enough copies of speeches that he has given. Hagel turned over four speeches in the vetting process, but has not turned over financial records. Cruz asks for full disclosure of payment for speeches and other services

The publication, Foreign Policy, read the senators 2008 book on defence so that you don’t have to and concluded that “Chuck Hagel Wants to Be Dwight Eisenhower” Worth a read.

Senator Cruz has entered an excerpt of Hagel in an 2009 interview that includes comments about Israel committing war crimes

Hagel says that he does not believe that Israel committed war crimes, circling back again to the comments about the “Jewish lobby”

And the chamber again turns its attention to the tv for another clip from the Al Jazeera interview. Senator Cruz has picked two clips from phone calls from viewers. The second clip had a call characterising the US as the world’s bully.

Senator Levin, the chairman, is commenting that he did not think the clips were the best way to present the information and says that the transcript will be part of the record and a chance for Hagel to read the transcripts and comment.

Senator Mazie Hirono, of Hawaii, is next up. There are multiple military bases in the island state and was obviously the site of the Pearl Harbor bombing

Richard McGregor, our man in the room, has this to say about Mr Cruz’s questioning

Mr Hagel is now being questioned by Ted Cruz, the new Republican senator from Texas who has arrived in Washington with a big reputation. He sharply criticised Mr Hagel for only giving the committee copies of four speeches, when Mr Cruz says he has made “hundreds”.

Mr Hagel attempts to answer but Mr Cruz cuts him off. Then in a dramatic moment, Mr Cruz turns the floor over to the large television set he has had wheeled into the hearing room. He plays an excerpt of an interview Mr Hagel did with Al Jazeera, in which Mr Hagel appears to agree with a caller who has said Israel committed “war crimes.” Mr Cruz calls Mr Hagel’s statement “highly troubling”. Then Mr Cruz plays another excerpt – suggesting that Mr Hagel agrees with another caller, who calls the US the “world’s bully”.

Mr Cruz says that for Mr Hagel to “to go a foreign network broadcasting propaganda to us … is not the conduct of a secretary of defence”.

Senator Hirono has turned her attention to the human side of war and how to make sure the lives of military personnel are as safe as possible.

Hagel refers to his own experience as a veteran to express the importance of caring for our troops.

Daniel Larison, an editor at American Conservative, makes an interesting point.

There are five votes coming up for the wider Senate, so the hearing will recess for about an hour. Then we will start back up with question time. We’ll be back when the action resumes

Just before we head to recess, Richard McGregor says this

As @geraldfseib noted, many senators, even the ones who parade themselves daily in the media as budget hawks, have spent most of their alloted time asking about defence spending projects in their home states.

While we have a moment, here is the Al Jazeera clip about the US being the world’s bully

Just checking back in, we are still on a long break, we promise a return to action as soon as the panel is back in place.

And we are back with Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah starting off again.

Senator Lee has focused on the Middle East, specifically the relationship between Israel and Palestine. He focused specifically on “Palestinian terrorism activities”, which Hagel said he did not support. Lee asked him if there was any justification for Palestinian suicide bombers, which Hagel said there was not.

Over in the comments, David Seaton, raises the very good point that Intrade, the predictive market site, has confirmation at 92.1 per cent. Hagel is likely to be confirmed, but that does not mean the questioning will be easy, as we’ve seen.

Richard McGregor catches up on Mike Lee

Mike Lee, like some of his colleagues on Israel, probes Mr Hagel’s view of the Palestinians and their rights, and the two-state solution. Mr Lee throws an old Hagel quote back at him – about how the Israelis shouldn’t cage up the Palestinians “like animals”. Mr Hagel doesn’t defend the quote. Like some other past statements, he says that if he had the chance to “edit” what he had said, he wouldn’t say it again.

Tim Kaine is up next. The Democrat from Virginia – another state with a big military presence. Norfolk is home to the world’s largest naval station. He says 1 in 9 Virginians is a veteran. He stresses that funding the Pentagon through continuing resolutions is “poor business, poor budgeting, poor governance”.

Senator David Vitter, the Republican from Louisiana, is up next and straight onto Israel questioning.

Hagel responds with a zinger when asked if he regretted comments about Israel:

“I’d like to edit a lot of things in my life, I’d probably be fairly busy”

Senator Vitter’s questions seem to focus on semantics, asking him if he regretted certain phrases or word choice. He really didn’t dip into any new topics, but instead focused on Israel and Iran. Though he did try to pin Hagel as a “flip flopper”.

Richard McGregor notes:

Chuck Hagel has been under pressure all day and his low-key slow talking style has not helped him throughout the day’s hearing. But finally, someone gets a laugh. Angus King, the newly elected senator from Maine, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, tells Hagel he admires him for his willingness to go through a confirmation hearing. King says: “It’s one of my principles that I will will never take a job that requires a legislative confirmation.” Hagel laughed heartily.

Senator King starts by actually asking a question that allows Hagel to expand on how he would manage the department. This moves away from the questions that are aimed at catching Hagel up.

Hagel responds with the importance of managing the people, which includes 1.3m members of the military. He said accountability is the top priority to the president and the department of defence employees.

Hagel admits he doesn’t know enough about some specific programmes, but says he intends to learn what he needs to know and supplement that with the knowing the right people.

New Hampshire’s Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, starts with more naval questions.

Slate’s Dave Weigel raises a good point

While the hearing was on break, the Senate passed the bill to suspend the debt limit until May by a vote to 64-34. It was one of five votes the hearing took a recess for.

We’re now heading into our second round of questioning, which will be composed of five-minute questions from each senator. We’re likely to hear more questions on the familiar topics already addressed – Israel, Iran, veterans’ affairs.

Senators can submit questions for the record until close of business on Friday and Hagel can submit his answers and requested documentation until end of the day on Monday.

Here’s that InTrade auction about Hagel’s confirmation

Reince Priebus, the head of the RNC, goes on the attack outside the chamber as the Republican questioning continues during the hearing.

Democratic Senator Manchin starts out with an apology

I want to apologise for some of the tone and demeanour today

A lot of focus on Hagel’s past comments and previous policy, but not much mention of the wars going on now

Hagel details his military career, but summed up with

“My life and my commitment is pretty clear and I’m proud of it.”

Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, was bombarded with questions about the Hagel hearing during his daily press briefing. Here’s a few of his comments on key topics

Nuclear policy

The position that Senator Hagel has taken on nuclear weapons is the same position that President Kennedy took. It is the same position that President Ronald Reagan took. It is the same position that Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn have taken. And it is the same position that the President — this President expressed in his speech in Prague.


I believe he said, as the President has said, that he takes no options off the table and every option remains on the table. That’s the President’s position and it’s a position that Senator Hagel supports.

We’ve had questions from Senator Sessions as well, but they haven’t covered any new ground. In fact, one of the questions was so convoluted that Hagel had to ask what the question actually was.

We’ve moved back onto Senator King, the independent from Maine. Many of the big names, including Senator John McCain did not return from break. It is unclear if he will return for this or later rounds.

Some interesting questions from Mr King about co-ordination with the intelligence community on counter terrorism efforts. Hagel responds saying that the area is complicated.

If (John) Brennan is confirmed, we’ll be spending some time together.

Other than Chairman Levin (who seems to have just left the room), Senator King is the only Democrat (though independent, he caucuses with the Democrats) left in the chamber. Four Republicans are still waiting for their chance to ask a second round of questions.

Questions now from New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayote, a Republican returns to questions about Iran.

Another Republican, Deb Fischer of Nebraska, is back up. Reminder: She’s from Hagel’s homestate, but they have clashed in the past.

She focuses again on the budget and allocation of funding within the defence community. Hagel again stresses the importance of looking at priorities and what missions are most important.

Senator Blunt of Missouri, another Republican, has stuck around for his second opportunity to ask questions. He is entering a variety of Hagel’s statements at previous events into the record. Again focusing on Israel.

The senator has just quoted an August 29, 2011 Financial Times interview with Hagel about funding for the defence department, including taking funds from other departments.

And here’s the quote he focused on:

The defence department has gotten everything it’s wanted the last 10 years and more. We’ve taken priorities, we’ve taken dollars, we’ve taken programmes, we’ve taken policies out of the State Department, out of a number of other departments and put them over in defence.

Hagel responds by saying it was an extensive interview about “a lot of things” and said that his comments were not as simple as that.

Judge for yourself and read the whole interview transcript, which covers a variety of issues including the anniversary of September 11.

It is available here.

One of the few Democrats left in the room, Jack Reed of Rhode Island, is asking his second round of questions.

Ted Cruz, who used the television interview excerpts in the first round, has returned to the chamber and is preparing for another go.

The next few years are going to be as defining and important for this country … since world war two … I can help this country and I want to do it.

And we’re back to Ted Cruz. His questions might be the most aggressive this round.

Backing up to when President Obama asked Hagel to take the job

Cruz goes through statements that Hagel has changed his position on. He would not allow Hagel to elaborate on why his views changed.

-Sanctions in Iran
-Iranian revolutionary Guard as a terrorist group
-All options must remain on the table about Iran
-Tilted too far towards Israel during the Middle East peace process

Cruz says

“I think your record and your past statements as a US senator, greater antagonism against the state of Israel than any member of this body”

That ends the second round of questioning.

Levin is now asking the standard questions of nominees that address conflict of interest, staff deadlines, providing witnesses and appearance to testify before committee.

Chairman Levin has opened the floor to questions.

Senator King brings up the negative advertisements against Hagel and asks if he knows who is paying for them. Hagel says that he has not seen the ads and routinely does not seek out negative ads against him.

Senator Cruz jumps at the opportunity to again affirm that he will provide all his speeches and his financial records.

Ben White, a former FTer and current Politico writer, raises an interesting Republican point.

The nomination is likely to be moved to a resolution within the committee early next week and then to a vote in the full Senate later next week after members of the committee and Hagel have had an opportunity to enter evidence into the record by Monday evening.

Senator Levin has finally wrapped up the hearing after eight and a half hours (though that includes breaks for votes).

Hagel looks exhausted as he has been speaking almost the whole time.

Richard McGregor, the FT’s Washington bureau chief, summarises Mr Hagel’s performance.

The administration will be worried that far from shoring up support, Mr Hagel’s defensiveness during much of the hearing might have lost him a number of votes. He is still likely to be confirmed but there may be 30-40 votes against him in the 100-member chamber.

That is not the way that any defence secretary, let alone a former senator himself, would like to be confirmed at a time when the Pentagon is under pressure to make deep cuts. Mr Hagel seemed often to be at his best when explaining his past positions. But much of the time, he awkwardly walked back his statements.

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