Groups on the right and the left of the political world are mounting new and aggressive campaigns to try to exert pressure on senators from both parties to oppose the nomination for Chuck Hagel to become the next secretary of defense.
Hagel's confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled for Jan. 31, and the conventional wisdom holds that his chances for confirmation were largely secured when Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), endorsed the nomination after meeting with Hagel last week. Schumer said Hagel had "convinced me that he had changed his views," on subjects like the influence of the "Jewish lobby," and Schumer said Hagel "satisfied my concerns," but "I'll be watching him like an eagle."
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) eventually followed suit 10 days later and announced her support for the Hagel nomination Thursday. Hagel continues to meet with senators from both sides of the aisle. He met with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) this week as well, although McCain has not decided yet whethr to support the nomination.
But a host of groups that oppose Hagel's ascendancy, some from the right and some from the left, are not backing down. In addition to the usual suspects, like the Emergency Committee for Israel, multiple new anti-Hagel grassroots campaigns are ramping up their well-funded activities, focusing on Democratic senators who are up for reelection in 2014, senators from states that have large defense industries, and senators from states with large LGBT communities.
"We live in a dangerous world," begins a new television ad that started running last week in several states. "But Barack Obama's nominee for secretary of defense wants America to back down. An end to our nuclear program. Devastating defense cuts. A weaker country. Call [your senator] and tell [them] to say no to Chuck Hagel -- before it's too late."
The ad was produced by the group Americans for a Strong Defense, which didn't exist until this month. The group is registered as a non-partisan 501c4 non-profit organization, but is led by Danny Diaz, former communications director for the Republican National Committee, and Brian Hook, former senior advisor to Tim Pawlenty and then Mitt Romney.
The group's spokesman Ryan Williams told The Cable the ad is just the beginning of a larger campaign. Right now, the ads are being tailored to target specific senators: Mark Pryor (D-AR), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Mark Begich (D-AK), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Mark Udall (D-CO, and Kay Hagan (D-NC). But that list is set to expand.
"The states we are targeting have senators who have not yet made a commitment either way on the Hagel nomination," said Williams. "We're going to be mobilizing grassroots efforts in a number of states. We might expand based on how the nomination process progresses."
ASD is arguing that Hagel's views are out of the mainstream on issues like Iran, Israel, and Cuba. They are also targeting states with big defense-industry constituencies, making the argument that Hagel supports budget cuts that could hit home in military communities.
Williams said that the group also plans to deploy teams to each of the target states to do direct outreach to voters and encourage them to contact their senators in opposition to the Hagel nomination. They are also taking out ads in Capitol Hill newspapers and are planning a national TV ad as well.
"We think once people learn more about Hagel's out of the mainstream views and troubling record, there will be a ground swell of opposition to his nomination and senators will get that message loud and clear and take that into account," Williams said.
Meanwhile, another anti-Hagel campaign is ramping up, this time from the left, attacking Hagel for his previous anti-gay comments.
"From the left, there's a lot of consternation about the Hagel nomination," said Bradley Tusk, former campaign manager for New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and founder of Tusk Strategies, which is helping coordinate the campaign. "A lot of people worked hard to reelect the president, believe in the president, and don't feel like they raised money and knocked on doors to then have him nominate a defense secretary who is clearly is anti-gay and anti-choice. I think what you hear a lot from the progressive community is: Couldn't he find someone who is just as qualified on defense issues who doesn't have these other views that we find abhorrent?"
"You also hear, if you've got to choose someone from the other party in a nod towards bipartisanship, why choose someone who clearly has issues with their own party?" he said. "Where's the logic of picking a Republican who doesn't seem to get along with Republicans."
A number of LGBT supporters and donors have come together to initiative a "seven-figure campaign" from the left, he said, that will include TV ads on CNN, NBC, and to run during Meet the Press on Sunday. The campaign also includes phone calls and direct voter outreach, a Twitter campaign, and outreach to the LGBT community. The donors are "mostly Democrats, prominent New Yorkers who care about LGBT issues," Tusk said, but are undisclosed, as are the donors for the anti-Hagel campaigns coming from the right.
This campaign is targeting Democratic senators including Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Bob Casey (D-PA), Max Baucus (D-MT), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), and Hagan.
The LGBT campaign claims to have already connected several thousands of calls to senators and plans to ramp up its activity leading up to next week's hearing and beyond. Tusk said that the fact that so many Democratic senators have not yet come out in support of Hagel, despite the Schumer endorsement, tells them that the nomination fight is not over.
"For all the Democratic senators, it was a clear moment to support Hagel and they chose not to do so. That clearly shows that everything we are doing is having an impact," he said. "This isn't what Democrats voted for and we can do better."
An official working on the Hagel confirmation told The Cable that the anti-Hagel groups are not representing Hagel's views accurately and are not likely to win the day.
"These kind of distortions of Chuck Hagel's beliefs on important national security issues are disappointing and misleading," the official said. "Senator Hagel's meeting on the Hill are going very well, and that's why you saw just this week a number of strong endorsements from Senators Lautenberg, Shaheen, Coons, and others. So the notion that these outside groups are having an impact on the reception Chuck Hagel is getting on the Hill just isn't borne out by the facts."
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