WASHINGTON – Two days before the US Senate holds hearings on the nomination of
Chuck Hagel as the next secretary of defense, a pro-Israel advocacy group headed
to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to lobby against his confirmation.
United for Israel said that more than 400 pastors and lay leaders from 46 states
answered their call to come to Washington to express their concerns about the
former Republican senator from Nebraska just six days after being approached by
“The response far surpassed our expectations,” said
David Brog, CUFI executive director, who added it was a sign of the deep
reservations the organization’s membership had about Hagel holding the top job
at the Pentagon.
“The focus of our message is that this is a nominee who
is far outside of the mainstream and who has demonstrated a blind spot to the
greatest threat to not only our ally Israel but also America... an Iran
determined to acquire nuclear weapons,” said Brog.
He calculated that
CUFI activists would meet with 78 senate offices over the course of the day,
including as many as 50 senators themselves. During their meetings, the
activists planned to note that 22,000 emails from CUFI supporters have already
been sent to senators opposing Hagel’s nomination.
“It is time senators
hear from their constituents who have very strong feelings that this nominee
endangers our security and our ally Israel’s,” said Brog.
organization is backing up its personal visits with full-page advertisements in
four states – Colorado, North Carolina, Arkansas and Louisiana – calling for
senators to vote against Hagel.
But not all pro-Israel groups are opposed
to Hagel, and several on the dovish side of the spectrum have expressed their
support for the nominee.
The progressive lobby J Street has sent emails
to Senate offices affirming support and describing Hagel as a friend of Israel
and an exceptional choice to be secretary of defense.
On Wednesday, J
Street will hold a conference call for media with Sen. Jack Reed (D-Rhode
Island), Air Force Gen. Lester Lyles and former representative Robert Wexler
touting Hagel’s experience.
Though several Republican senators have
indicated they will vote against his confirmation, Democrats hold the majority
of the Senate, so chances for Hagel’s approval are strong.
Some of the
Democratic senators who seemed reluctant to support Hagel, particularly senior
Democrat Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, have since indicated they will back
Brog acknowledged that Schumer’s decision to back Hagel made for an
uphill climb against his confirmation, but he maintained “it’s still possible to
shift the momentum against Hagel.”
And whether or not he’s confirmed,
Brog argued, CUFI’s advocacy now should pay dividends.
important to make these criticisms, to take these stands and draw these lines
[because] that will impact his behavior and the administration’s behavior going
forward,” he said.
Obama’s choice for secretary of state, John Kerry, has
met with considerably less controversy. Following a relatively smooth
confirmation hearing last week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, of which
Kerry is currently the chair, approved his nomination in a voice vote. The whole
Senate is widely expected to follow suit.