Chuck Hagel’s unusual door-to-door sales pitch

Ding dong, Hagel calling! In a door-to-door push to rival the Girl Scout cookie pushers sweeping your neighborhood, Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s mildly-controversial nominee to be the next secretary of defense, is meeting with approximately 35 senators on Capitol Hill this week. That’s more ring-kissing than Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and former Defense Secretary Robert ...

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Ding dong, Hagel calling! In a door-to-door push to rival the Girl Scout cookie pushers sweeping your neighborhood, Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s mildly-controversial nominee to be the next secretary of defense, is meeting with approximately 35 senators on Capitol Hill this week.

That’s more ring-kissing than Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and former Defense Secretary Robert Gates did before their confirmations, combined.

Hagel’s nomination has been far from usual in many respects. He’s a member of the opposition party, to start. So when his name was floated during the holiday season, the trial balloon was left out in the cold for weeks as an easy target for opponents.

Ding dong, Hagel calling! In a door-to-door push to rival the Girl Scout cookie pushers sweeping your neighborhood, Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s mildly-controversial nominee to be the next secretary of defense, is meeting with approximately 35 senators on Capitol Hill this week.

That’s more ring-kissing than Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and former Defense Secretary Robert Gates did before their confirmations, combined.

Hagel’s nomination has been far from usual in many respects. He’s a member of the opposition party, to start. So when his name was floated during the holiday season, the trial balloon was left out in the cold for weeks as an easy target for opponents.

By the time the president made his selection official this month, Hagel’s name was thoroughly battered and key Democratic senators threatened to withhold their support. So Hagel, a former senator, offered to meet or call on all 100 members of his former stomping grounds before his confirmation comes to a vote. An official working on his confirmation told the E-Ring on Wednesday that Hagel will meet with more than 50 members — more than half of the entire U.S. Senate — before his confirmation hearing.

While the Senate holds the power of advice and consent over presidential nominees, Hagel has taken to auditioning for a role that likely already is his; by now there is no real opposition in the Senate that appears to block his confirmation. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) backed Hagel after they met last week, effectively silencing the myth that “pro-Israel” opponents would sink Hagel. That was Hagel’s only real roadblock.

On Tuesday, Hagel met with Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), who said in a pool spray for television cameras afterwards that Hagel was not "taking anything for granted."

"I can understand why President Obama has chosen him," Durbin said.

Hagel also met with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), and Team Hagel came away very encouraged even though McCain remains noncommital about his support for his fellow Vietnam veteran. The official working on Hagel’s confirmation described a "productive and constructive…discussion between two long-time friends."

Sen. Kelly Hagel (R-NH) met with Hagel on Wednesday, and also held her cards close. "I continue to have concerns about some of his previous positions; however, I look forward to learning more about his views during next week’s confirmation hearing. I will reserve judgment on his nomination until after that hearing.”

Hagel also met Sen. Ben Carin (D-MD).

Panetta never had to go through this. The current boss came directly from his post as Central Intelligence Agency director and fresh off of the mission that killed Osama bin Laden. Confirmation of his nomination was virtually preordained.  

Bob Gates? “I don’t recall the exact number but it was nothing like thirty,” said Geoff Morrell, former Pentagon press secretary under Gates, in an email. “We extended offers to all [Senate Armed Services Committee] members and only a handful beyond [Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) and former Ranking Member John Warner (R-VA)] took him up on it.”

A second official close to Hagel’s confirmation process tells the E-Ring that the decision to extend offers to meet with all 100 members of the Senate was Hagel’s own, and a product of his being out of government for some time, since retiring from the Senate in 2008, and his own "due diligence."

Hagel is pictured above leaving McCain’s office with Marie Harf, the Obama campaign’s spokeswoman for national security. Harf previously was a Central Intelligence Agency spokeswoman under Panetta with George Little, who is now Pentagon press secretary.

If any senators haven’t booked their three cups of tea with Hagel yet, they should hurry it up. His confirmation hearing is set for January 31.

Kevin Baron is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy, covering defense and military issues in Washington. He is also vice president of the Pentagon Press Association. Baron previously was a national security staff writer for National Journal, covering the "business of war." Prior to that, Baron worked in the resident daily Pentagon press corps as a reporter/photographer for Stars and Stripes. For three years with Stripes, Baron covered the building and traveled overseas extensively with the secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, covering official visits to Afghanistan and Iraq, the Middle East and Europe, China, Japan and South Korea, in more than a dozen countries. From 2004 to 2009, Baron was the Boston Globe Washington bureau's investigative projects reporter, covering defense, international affairs, lobbying and other issues. Before that, he muckraked at the Center for Public Integrity. Baron has reported on assignment from Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, the Middle East and the South Pacific. He was won two Polk Awards, among other honors. He has a B.A. in international studies from the University of Richmond and M.A. in media and public affairs from George Washington University. Originally from Orlando, Fla., Baron has lived in the Washington area since 1998 and currently resides in Northern Virginia with his wife, three sons, and the family dog, The Edge. Twitter: @FPBaron

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