Obama’s Farm Team

The U.S. Senate, which held hearings Thursday in the Foreign Relations Committee on Sen. John Kerry’s nomination to be secretary of state, looks like the farm team for the Obama administration.  Kerry is the chairman of the committee, having succeeded Sen. Joe Biden four years ago when the Delaware Democrat was named vice president by their former committee colleague, Barack Obama.

Hearings will begin late next week on another SFRC, former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Nebraska), who has been nominated to be secretary of defense. If confirmed he will be the fourth member of the committee and sixth former Obama Senate colleague in top administration posts.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-New York) wasn’t on Foreign Relations though she wound up as the nation’s top diplomatic, but she served with Obama on the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions and the Committee on Environment and Public Works.

The only former Senate colleague in the cabinet who did not serve on any committee with the junior senator from Illinois is Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who this week announced his plans to leave.

Kerry’s nomination has broad support in the Jewish community, although a few on the fringe may grouse about his attempts to cultivate a relationship with Syria’s Bashar Assad.

Hagel, who also advocates dialogue with Syria as well as Iran, will have a tougher time from his former colleagues, especially his fellow Republicans, but they are expected to eventually confirm him.  Look for a lot of questions at his hearings that may sound like pandering to the hardline supporters of Israel.

Forty-five prominent pro-Israel Jewish figures signed an ad sponsored by the Israel Policy Forum endorsing Hagel’s nomination.  Included in the group are former Congressmen Mel Levine, Gary Ackerman and Robert Wexler; Stuart Eizenstat, a former Clinton and Carter official; former AIPAC head Tom Dine and philanthropist Charles Bronfman.

Hagel would “ably continue security cooperation between the United States and the State of Israel, which has reached unprecedented levels during President Obama’s time in office,” said the ad appearing in Capitol Hill newspaper The Hill on Wednesday, JTA reported.

Hegel has encountered strong opposition from many neo-conservative, evangelical and other rightist supporters of the Netanyahu government. One of their criticisms is that Hagel referred to AIPAC and other pro-Israel groups as the “Jewish lobby.”  What they conveniently ignore is that is the same term used by Israelis to refer to AIPAC – “ha lobby yehudi b’Washington.”  But their real objection is that like most American Jews, Hagel is not an ardent Likud loyalist and believes the peace process should be revived.

The anti-Hagel campaign is led by Christians United For Israel, the Zionist Organization of America, Republican Jewish Coalition and the Emergency Committee for Israel – all of which can be counted upon to oppose virtually anything the Obama administration does in the Middle East. 

AIPAC and other mainstream groups have expressed concerns but have not formally opposed the nomination, reports JTA.  That may be attributable to fear of offending the White House and losing access there and at the Pentagon.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.