In a Feb. 21 letter, 15 Senate Republicans urged President Barack Obama to withdraw Hagel’s nomination because he did not have strong bipartisan support. The letter amounted to a last stand for GOP senators who had led the opposition to the nominee, but it also provided a preview of the political hurdles ahead for Hagel as he prepares to take over the Pentagon.
With Hagel as Defense secretary, the senators wrote that the military option on Iran would have “zero credibility.”
“This sends a dangerous message to the regime in Tehran, as it seeks to obtain the means necessary to harm both the United States and Israel,” they warned.
Concern Over Nuclear Arsenal
Hagel’s track record on nuclear weapons — particularly a report he co-authored last year calling for decreasing the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal and eventually shedding the ground leg of the famed triad — will also continue to draw scrutiny from Republicans, particularly following Obama’s State of the Union promise to open talks with Moscow on further arms reductions.
Throughout his confirmation process, Hagel has assured lawmakers that he supports maintaining and modernizing the nation’s nuclear arsenal and opposes unilateral reductions to the U.S. nuclear inventory.
But many Republicans remain skeptical and will closely track decisions Hagel would soon make as Defense secretary on funding for expensive modernization programs such as the Air Force’s next-generation nuclear-capable bomber and the Navy’s replacement for its venerable fleet of Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines.
In a twist of timing, Hagel would take the top Pentagon job just as the military begins making significant investments in modernizing those multibillion-dollar programs. Their annual investments will only grow during the next decade, making them potential targets as the Pentagon faces the threat of the sequester or other deep cuts that could be part of a deficit reduction agreement.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.