Did Anyone Tell Chuck Hagel There Would Be Questions?

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
Jan. 31 2013 8:01 PM

Fluster Chuck

Did anyone tell Chuck Hagel there would be questions?

Chuck Hagel testifying during confirmation hearing.
Former Sen. Chuck Hagel testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington on Thursday.

Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Everyone who paid a little attention to Chuck Hagel’s nomination to run the Department of Defense knew that he’d have to answer for his juicy quotes about Israel and foreign policy. At least, everyone should have told Chuck Hagel. For seven hours, his answers to Republicans in the Senate Armed Services Committee—one of his old committees!—ranged from passable to apocalyptic.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

“Explain this a bit,” said South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who was a Hagel critic before he was even nominated. “You said, ‘The Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here.’ ‘I’m not an Israeli senator; I’m a United States senator.’ ‘This pressure makes us do dumb things at times.’ ”

That last quote wasn’t even correct. In a 2006 interview with Aaron David Miller, one of the most famous pieces of Hageliana, the senator said he’d “argued against the dumb things they do”—they being the Israel lobby. He didn’t sign one particular open letter supporting Israel because “it was a stupid letter.”

Advertisement

But Graham ran with the misquote. “Name one person in your opinion who’s intimidated by the Israeli lobby,” he said.

“Well, uh, first … ” started Hagel.

Graham interrupted him. “Name one.”

Hagel shrugged. “Uh, I don’t know.”

Three weeks ago, Hagel broke typical nominee protocol by talking to the media—the Lincoln (Neb.) Journal Star—and rebutting this attack. “I didn't sign on to certain resolutions and letters because they were counter-productive and didn't solve a problem,” he said. He’d ducked some popular pro-Israel letters in resolutions because they couldn’t answer his question: “How does that further the peace process in the Middle East?”

But when it counted, Hagel drifted.

“Well, why would you say that?” asked Graham.

“I didn’t have in mind a specific person …” started Hagel.

“It was an injurious, provocative statement,” said Graham. “I can’t think of a more provocative thing to say about the relationship between the United States and Israel, and the Senate and the Congress, than what you said.”

Hagel has one of the saddest faces in politics, one that used to be captured in black and white for magazine profiles about his manful truth-telling. “Hagel is typically more interested in facts on the ground than doctrine,” wrote Joseph Lelyveld in a 2006 take, when Hagel was daydreaming about the 2008 presidential nomination. “He's a politician with attributes that are supposedly sought by the people who package candidates.” Graham, a former JAG lawyer, made that media hero unrecognizable. He jerked around in his chair, as if Hagel’s dissembling caused him physical pain. When an answer started to wander, Graham cut it short—“I gotcha”—and moved on.

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

Why Do Some People See the Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese?

The science that explains the human need to find meaning in coincidences.

Jurisprudence

Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

What to Do if You Literally Get a Bug in Your Ear

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 16 2014 7:03 PM Kansas Secretary of State Loses Battle to Protect Senator From Tough Race
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 8:43 PM This 17-Minute Tribute to David Fincher Is the Perfect Preparation for Gone Girl
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 6:40 PM This iPhone 6 Feature Will Change Weather Forecasting
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 16 2014 11:46 PM The Scariest Campfire Story More horrifying than bears, snakes, or hook-handed killers.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.