On Jan. 31, 2013, I attended the Secretary of Defense nomination hearing of former Sen. Chuck Hagel. Lines were out the doors for security check-ins at the Dirksen Senate building. The hearing room was packed to the limit, with every chair full by 9 a.m. and many people standing along the sides by the time it started a half hour later.
Hagel spent his opening remarks refuting all criticism that had plagued the media before the hearing. Each one of these points was, at some point during the process, aggressively discussed. Almost every topic imaginable was addressed at the multi-hour hearing, but there was specific focus on Iran, Iraq, Israel, nuclear weapons and his military service in Vietnam.
The hearing has been referred to as one of the harshest confirmation hearings, and for good reason. Senators on the Armed Services Committee dolled out quite a beating to Hagel during the five-hour hearing, but he held up well. This included many interruptions, back and forth arguments, a multimedia presentation, and much critiquing over past statements.
“I've had more attention paid to my words in the last eight weeks than I ever thought possible,” Hagel said at one point.
This attention-to-detail was also employed during the hearing. In what turned out to be a multimedia presentation, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) showcased past statements—and lack thereof—in order to argue Hagel’s incompetence for the position. Cruz was not satisfied with simply reading these statements or describing Hagel’s television appearance. Instead, he had prepared two video clips from a 2009 interview Hagel did with Al Jazeera, and had a quote printed on a poster board to literally show Hagel what he had said. Cruz’s questioning revolved around the topic of Israel.
I anticipate that the questioning from Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) will be the section most discussed in the wake of the hearing. McCain was particularly critical of Hagel’s position on Iraq. He often interrupted Hagel, or would speak over him if Hagel did not provide yes-or-no answers to questions that Hagel insisted were not that simple. McCain cited fundamental disagreements with Hagel’s judgment and views. He told Hagel that history had already made a judgment on the U.S. military surge in Iraq, and that Hagel was on the wrong side of history.
After rounds of voting and hours of questioning, the Committee recessed. Hagel weakened towards the end of the testimony, but all in all he remained strong. Hagel refrained from responding with anger, yet remained persistent in his arguments. He stated that he may have been wrong at times, but he always acted in the nation’s best interests.
While the hearing was indeed streaming online, attending the hearing provided a much better experience. You could feel the tension, you could appreciate the moments of lighthearted laughter, and you could see the reactions to questions and answers.
By Mary Morgan