Schumer for Hagel

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Jan. 15 2013 10:23 AM

Schumer for Hagel

The media gods decided that Sen. Chuck Schumer could make or break the Chuck Hagel nomination. Sure, Schumer wasn't up until 2016. Sure, it's been a decade since any Republican candidate (George Pataki) won anything statewide in New York, and longer since any Republican could even get 40 percent of the vote in an Empire State Senate race (Rick Lazio). But the theory was that a Democrat so supportive of Israel that he led the charge against things that sounded kinda Muslim (Dubai Ports!) would be a tough get for Hagel.

Hagel got him.

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“Based on several key assurances provided by Senator Hagel,” Mr. Schumer said in a prepared statement, “I am currently prepared to vote for his confirmation. I encourage my Senate colleagues who have shared my previous concerns to also support him.” Mr. Schumer is likely to have influence over many of his Senate colleagues, particularly Democrats, who have been fretting over the nomination. He called Mr. Hagel Tuesday morning to let him know he was prepared to support him.

Anti-Hagelians had been jumping up and down with air horns whenever a Democrat got mealy-mouthed about Hagel -- Maryland's Jewish Democrat Ben Cardin, for example. But they set up Schumer as the gatekeeper, and he's opened the gate. Now Hagel can only be stopped if, as the Center for American Freedom's Michael Goldfarb put it to me, some Republican wants "to be a friend to Israel for a day" and filibuster Hagel. But to do that effectively -- to build any ideological beachhead effectively -- you need the press to believe that there's bipartisan agreement.

When we look back at Hagel's nomination, if it goes through, AIPAC's decision not to oppose him may have sealed the deal. Not that I'm saying an "Israel lobby" exists, or that its rhetoric and donations have any role whatsoever in American foreign policy. But AIPAC sidestepped the fight while the ADL, hawks like Elliot Abrams and Bill Kristol, and a big chunk of the commentariat rushed in to portray Hagel as an anti-Semite.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at daveweigel@gmail.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.