We were dismayed by the sudden announcement last week by New York’s senior U.S. senator, Charles Schumer, that he would support President Obama’s nomination of former senator Chuck Hagel for secretary of defense.
The hearings on the nomination aren’t scheduled to begin until January 31, and Sen. Schumer had publicly echoed some of the pro-Israel community’s misgivings about Mr. Hagel’s positions on Israel and Iran, his refusal to sign a Senate resolution letter declaring Hizbullah a terror group, and his “Jewish lobby” comment, among other things – about which many members of the Senate had expressed their own concerns.
Hearings – with questions drawn up by Armed Service Committee staffers – will likely make for a possibly explosive but certainly informative proceeding. So why the haste on the part of Sen. Schumer, who is not exactly known for his expertise on defense issues.
Sen. Schumer met with Mr. Hagel and White House officials for ninety minutes a week ago Monday and issued a statement certifying that “Senator Hagel could not have been more forthcoming and sincere. Based on several key assurances provided by Sen. Hagel, I am currently prepared to vote for his confirmation. I encourage my Senate colleagues who have shared my previous concerns to also support him….”
To be sure, Sen. Schumer provided two or three sentences about each of the issues Mr. Hagel addressed. But how much insight could Mr. Schumer have gleaned from a relatively brief sit-down in an environment decidedly friendly to Mr. Hagel? Would it not have been more prudent for Sen. Schumer to have waited to see what would emerge from full-blown Senate hearings?
Several members of the Senate have already publicly deferred to Mr. Schumer and more have doubtless already taken their cue privately from him as well. Indeed, many were looking to Sen. Schumer for guidance because he is the number three Democrat in the Senate and the most senior Jewish senator. And, frankly, he has always stood up for Israel. So though the hearings will still take place, their impact has been greatly diminished.
Even so, from where we sit the questions raised about Mr. Hagel are perhaps the most serious ever regarding a nominee for so senior a position. A robust inquiry was appropriate prior to any decision-making about support.
Frankly, Mr. Schumer’s speedy certification of Mr. Hagel smacks of political expediency – an effort by a loyal and influential Democrat to take the steam out of the hearings and blunt a serious inquiry. And that’s truly unfortunate.