A third Republican senator has announced his support for Defense nominee Chuck Hagel, while fifteen other Republicans wrote to the president asking him to withdraw Hagel's nomination.
Five-term senator Richard Shelby told hometown paper the Decatur Daily that, though he has concerns about Hagel's nomination, he plans to vote for him and expects Hagel to win Senate confirmation. "He's probably as good as we're going to get," Shelby told the paper. Shelby joins Republican Senators Thad Cochran of Mississippi and Mike Johanns of Nebraska, who have also signaled their support.
Meanwhile, Texas Senator John Cornyn and a group of 14 Republican co-signers say in a letter to the president that Hagel is "not the right candidate" to lead the Pentagon, and that it would be "uprecedented for a Secretary of Defense to take office without the broad base of bipartisan support and confidence needed to serve effectively" in the role.
The senators write that his performance at his confirmation hearing led to "serious doubts about his basic competence," and say his "disconcerting" views of Iran "send a dangerous message to the regime in Tehran, as it seeks to obtain the means necessary to harm both the United States and Israel." The letter was signed by Sens. John Cornyn (Texas), Jim Inhofe (Okla.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Roger Wicker (Miss.), David Vitter (La.), Ted Cruz (Texas), Mike Lee (Utah), Pat Toomey (Pa.), Marco Rubio (Fla.), Dan Coats (Ind.), Ron Johnson (Wis.), James Risch (Idaho), Tom Coburn (Okla.), John Barrasso (Wyo.) and Tim Scott (S.C.).
On Wednesday, at a breakfast hosted by the Association for a Better New York, Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer explained his initial skepticism about Hagel, and eventual decision to support him."I also told him when he used the word Jewish lobby what it meant to the Jewish people," he said, describing their crucuial 90-minute. " I'm sure you didn't mean it but it harkens to the old days. And he really was—he almost had tears in his eyes when he understood that." Schumer said the opposition to Hagel is being led by neo-conservatives who "resent his apostasy on Iraq."
New polling from the Pew Research Center shows that Hagel's favorable ratings have slid over the past month, as he has become better known, and been battered by an ugly confirmation battle. A month ago, 18% of Americans had a favorable view of Hagel, 17% viewed him unfavorably and nearly two-thirds (65%) had no opinion.
Now, more than twice as many Republicans view Hagel unfavorably as favorably (36% vs.15%.) Democrats and independents also view Hagel more negatively.
Despite those numbers, the Hagel nomination fight is more a game of Senate math than public opinion, and his confirmation seems inevitable, barring a last minute surprise. The Senate is expected to vote on Hagel's nomination when senators return from a ten-day Congressional recess next week.