A Hagel nomination that could turn on Schumer, after Gillibrand

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Briefing: Obama. (Getty Images via zap2it.com)
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Chuck Schumer won't say exactly how he plans to handle the nomination of Chuck Hagel, whose past reference to a "Jewish lobby" and opposition to Iran sanctions have rattled some staunch supporters of Israel.

"All I can say is that I have an open mind and I'm ready to sit and listen to him," he told the Wall Street Journal yesterday, echoing the noncommittal statement he put out after President Obama announced on Monday that he would nominate Hagel for defense secretary.

Hagel could certainly use Schumer's help. The nomination faces lots of opposition from his former Republican colleagues, who haven't forgotten when he became the public face of opposition to the Iraq War, which means he'll need near-unanimity from Democrats, who might feel safer supporting him with the cover provided by a staunch pro-Israel voice like Schumer.

But while all eyes are focused on Schumer, the Washington Post suggests Kirsten Gillibrand is the real bellwether. She sits on the Armed Services Committee, which will hear from Hagel first. The committee is split 14-12 in favor of Democrats, so any defection could endanger a positive report. 

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Gillibrand put out her own skeptical statement after the nomination, highlighting questions about Hagel's positions on Iran. She's been careful since becoming senator to be at least as pro-Israel as Schumer (whose bona fides are much better established) on various issues, and it's unlikely that she and Schumer will break on the Hagel nomination.

--Reid Pillifant

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