Schumer reaffirms support for Hagel, despite the poor articulation

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Schumer, in Battery Park. (Reid Pillifant)
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Sen. Chuck Schumer told me this morning that he still supports Chuck Hagel as the next secretary of the Defense Department, despite Hagel's unsteady performance at a hearing last week before the Armed Services Committee.

"Look, the bottom line is two-fold," Schumer said. "Number one, when I spoke to him, not only did he clarify what he believed, and cleared up what he believed, but he had a good rationale for all of it. Which is, you know, 'Most of the things I said'—that I found objectionable—'were five, six years ago. Iran is a different country. Hezbollah and Hamas are different organizations.' And it rang true. So, I still support him.

"Second, I would say this. At a time when we need as close a relationship as possible between Israel and America, with the specter of a nuclear Iran, the last thing we need is a break between Israel and America. And it's not an accident that neither AIPAC, nor A.D.L., nor the A.J.C. has come out against Hagel. Most of the people who've come out against Hagel have been, you know, sort of from the hard-right neocon area, who never liked him on a whole lot of other things."

Schumer promised to watch Hagel "like an eagle" during the confirmation hearings, even after offering an early endorsement that was intended to bolster Hagel's bona fides with Israel supporters. Hagel had repeatedly opposed unilateral sanctions as a senator and once spoke of the ill effects of a "Jewish lobby" in Washington.

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The hearing before the Armed Services Committee went badly for Hagel. His former Republican colleagues unloaded on him, and the nominee missed a number of easy lay-ups, calling Iran a "legitimate" state and referring to a policy of "containment" that the administration has explicitly rejected.

“The disconcerting thing, obviously, for anybody that watched it was he seemed unimpressive and unprepared on the questions that, quite frankly, he knew was coming,” said Robert Gibbs, the former press secretary for President Obama, on "Meet the Press" yesterday.

I asked Schumer if there was anything in the hearing that gave him pause.

"He could have done a better job at the hearing," Schumer conceded. "But, you know, he stuck by his answers. He didn't change any of the answers he gave to me. He just didn't articulate them that well that day. But so be it."