10:20 a.m. E.T.
Both sides are gearing up for a confirmation fight, not knowing if they are playing almost exclusively an inside game, or if this has the potential to go wider and become an outside game too (a la Bork and Tower).
Those opposing Hagel have been organizing for a long time. They are sophisticated and have an appreciation for the dynamics of press, policy, votes and quotes, and vote counting that go into successfully defying the odds and denying an incumbent president his choice for a cabinet job when the nominee in question has no ethical issues or scandals to derail confirmation.
Team Anti-Hagel holds regular conference calls. Among its members’ current strategic imperatives: figure out which of their Hagel criticisms can get the most traction (and how to frame them for the inside and outside games simultaneously); highlight Democratic statements expressing skepticism about Hagel (particularly from Senators such as Maryland’s Ben Cardin this morning); and make sure they don’t cross any lines that backfire in their faces (for instance, making sure to praise Hagel for his military service).
The White House effort to get Hagel confirmed so far seems to lack the kind of high-profile sherpa that is often used in challenging confirmation fights (a John Podesta or Ed Gillespie type).
But Team Hagel has done a fair amount of the type of research that has driven many of the anti-Hagel attacks so far.
For instance, following Mitch McConnell’s hard-to-read comments on the Sunday shows about his posture on a Hagel nomination, Team Hagel is distributing these quotes from a 2007 McConnell fundraising trip to Nebraska on Hagel’s behalf.
McConnell not only called the Nebraskan “an indispensable member of the Republican team,” but also credited him with correctly predicting the Iraq quagmire.
From a Lincoln Journal Star report:
“Many of the predictions Chuck Hagel made about the war came true,” the Kentucky senator said in a brief interview after his remarks at a fundraising reception.
“They have proven to be accurate.”
Hagel’s views on the war “have not diminished his effectiveness,” McConnell said, and may, in fact, increase his effectiveness over time.
The potential swing point in this fight would be if a Democratic senator came out in opposition to Hagel. The current post-Thomas dynamic in most nominations is for senators, regardless of party, to keep their powder dry until confirmation hearings are underway. If that pattern holds, both sides are likely to be fighting a meta-war until February.
The two most important senators in this nomination right now are McConnell and McCain. If Hagel has their support, he should be home free. If he loses one or both of them, and even a single Democrat, the dynamics become more challenging for the White House.