President Obama is expected to nominate former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel on Monday for Secretary of Defense. Hagel, a Republican, has clashed with his own party on foreign policy and national security issues in the past.
Senate Republicans are putting forth their concerns about their former colleague. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday that the nomination would be an "in your face" pick.
"Chuck Hagel, if confirmed to be Secretary of Defense, would be the most antagonistic Secretary of Defense towards the State of Israel in our nation's history," Graham said.
Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) threatened to hold Hagel's nomination. In a recent statement, Rubio's spokesman Alex Conant said:
Promoting democracy in Latin America is a priority for Sen. Rubio, and he’s put holds on other administration nominees over the issue. If President Obama were to nominate Sen. Hagel for a cabinet position, I’m sure we would have questions about Cuba positions.
Hagel, however, has friends in Democratic lobbying circles. The powerful Washington D.C. organization known as the Podesta Group is reportedly asking defense contractors for financial support to run ads defending the Hagel nomination.
Fox News White House Chief White House Correspondent Ed Henry reported on Friday:
(2:15 in) Sources confirm to Fox [that] Democratic super lobbyist Tony Podesta has been hired by a firm known as the Bipartisan Group to help mobilize support for Hagel. And defense contractors received calls this week urging them to be ready for a Hagel pick as soon as Monday, and asking them for money to help run more ads defending him like this open letter from a bipartisan group of foreign policy luminaries.
The Bipartisan Group letter, signed by former Oklahoma Senator David Boren, former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, former Secretary of Defense Frank Carlucci, former Commander of U.S. Central Command Bill Fallon, and former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft among others, expresses to President Obama their "strong support for Senator Chuck Hagel." The signatories question criticism towards Hagel's views on Israel:
Along with Senator Hagel, we were signatories to several letters we sent you proposing parameters for the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that you sought to revive. These communications are now being cited by some who now oppose Senator Hagel's nomination as evidence of what they claim to be unfriendliness to Israel.
The first six principles we proposed for resumed peace talks was that "The U.S. will oppose any effort to challenge or undermine the legitimacy of the state of Israel within its internationally recognized borders." We opposed unlimited entry of Palestinian refugees into the State of Israel, and supported the reconciliation of the various Palestinian factions "on terms compatible with these principles and UNSC Resolutions 242 and 338."
To characterize supporters of these principles, largely based on the parameters proposed by President Clinton in 2000, as an anti-Israel or anti-Semitic, as some of these critics have, is unacceptable. No one has been more steadfast in supporting America's commitment to Israel's security than has Senator Hagel.
Foreign Policy noticed the Podesta Group purchasing ads in Politico's Mike Allen's Playbook for up to $35,000 last week:
The Podesta Group is channeling as much as $35,000 to sponsor Mike Allen's Playbook this week as it lobbies influencers on the merits of appointing former senator Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense. Podesta is providing public affairs services on behalf of an organization calling itself the Bipartisan Group, a loose association of retired national security types who have taken up Hagel's cause after some pro-Israel groups and others raised concerns about Hagel's past statements about Israel. The ads have appeared since Monday in the e-mailed newsletter published by Politico.
Representatives from Podesta would not comment on a matter concerning a client. But a source familiar with the effort told Situation Report that the Bipartisan Group--comprised of David Boren, Frank Carlucci, William "Fox" Fallon, Gary Hart, Brent Scowcroft, Thomas Pickering, and others--approached Podesta to help get the word out about Hagel. Critics continue to cite things Hagel did and said in the late 1980s and 1990s as evidence of less-than-strong support for Israel.
"The Bipartisan Group has a different view of Senator Hagel's record and his views, and they want to make sure that he is not swift-boated," said the individual. "It is a record they are comfortable promoting. If he is a nominee, he should be afforded a fair hearing and that he should be afforded a fair process."
Individuals from two publications who are familiar with ad rates for Allen's popular e-mail put the buy at approximately $35,000 for a week's worth of sponsorship.
The Podesta Group’s work with the Hagel nomination is unsurprising considering in 2010, Tony Podesta himself laughed off the restrictions that lobbyists faced.
In the meantime, the organization has its focus on congressional measures. According to the New York Times, the Podesta Group, which tripled its staff three years ago, receives half a million dollars a year from General Dynamics, a military contractor.
Mr. Podesta waves his hand dismissively and chortles when discussing the criticism and new restrictions that lobbyists face from the White House.
“Whatever they’re gonna do, they’ll do,” he said. “They can ban lobbyists from having drivers licenses. We’ll all get cars and drivers.”
The obvious friction between Mr. Podesta and the White House has an added dimension; his brother and former partner, John Podesta, headed up Mr. Obama’s presidential transition and is a crucial presidential ally.
Some prospective clients, in fact, will contact Mr. Podesta because of his brother’s ties to Mr. Obama. “People approach us and say, ‘Can you call your brother and get him to call the president,’ and we’ll say, ‘No.’ It’s not what we do. We don’t do access lobbying.”
Mr. Podesta does some work with the White House despite the tension, but his lobbying is directed mainly on Congress, where debate has focused on huge and historic measures.
The Podesta Group, founded in 1988 by brothers John and Tony Podesta, was also behind the campaign to tamp down the insults against President Obama’s constant golf outings.