Hagel could face tough questions on past statements about Israel and broader Middle East policy.
It would be difficult for Republicans to block a nominee who for more than a decade was a leading voice in their own party. Though he broke with the GOP and then-President George W. Bush on the Iraq war, voting in 2007 to withdraw all troops from the country, he consistently voted with the Bush White House on a host of other issues.
McCain indicated Thursday that in addition to his statements on Israel — including one suggesting that “the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people” on Capitol Hill — Hagel’s past opposition to the 2007 “surge” of troops Bush sent into Iraq would be a factor in his considerations, should Hagel be nominated.
Added McCain, “To allege that he is somehow a Republican, that’s a hard one to swallow.”
In fact, Hagel voted with his party at a higher rate than McCain did over the time the two men served together in the Senate.
Hagel has, however, eased closer toward Democratic positions since retiring from the Senate, calling for a smaller footprint in Afghanistan, for example, and forging a relationship with Obama as a co-chairman of the president’s Intelligence Advisory Board.
After already tussling with the Obama administration on one not-yet-nominee, Republicans may also be calculating that they would be overplaying their hand to try and block another pick before a nomination has been formally announced.
“Out of respect to the president, I’m not going to comment on his hypothetical appointments,” Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said Tuesday when asked about Hagel’s qualifications to head up the Pentagon. “I’m going to wait and see who the president nominates and then carefully consider someone, especially for that position.”