Don Walton: Hagel on center stage this week

2013-01-27T17:00:00Z 2013-01-31T11:55:04Z Don Walton: Hagel on center stage this weekBy DON WALTON / Column JournalStar.com

The Chuck Hagel drama moves to center stage this week.

His confirmation hearing sits in the middle of the spotlight on Thursday.

With support building from Democratic senators and endorsements from a stellar array of foreign policy and defense policy leaders, including Republican heavyweights, Hagel's confirmation as secretary of defense appears likely, but not settled.

Colin Powell, Robert Gates, Brent Scowcroft, William Cohen, George Schultz, Melvin Laird, all senior Republican policymakers, have expressed their support for Hagel. 

But Republican senators have been reluctant so far to endorse the nomination of Nebraska's former Republican senator. And that includes Nebraska's two current Republican senators.

Israel, Iran, a remark long ago about a gay U.S. ambassador that Hagel has since apologized for — all of that will be explored at the hearing.  Along with military spending cuts already underway and projected for the future.

But Hagel's outspoken opposition to a Republican president's war policy in Iraq is part of this, too, as Thursday's questioning is likely to confirm.

And Hagel did not support his party's nominee, Sen. John McCain, against Sen. Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential race. In 2012, he supported Democratic nominee Bob Kerrey against Republican nominee Deb Fischer in Nebraska's Senate race. 

And all of that is bubbling under the surface rather than sitting on the table.

McCain is a leading Republican member of the committee and his final decision will be fascinating. These guys once were buddies; no other word is a better fit. 

McCain's support, unlikely as it might seem at the moment, would clear the Republican logjam.

But the reality is that McCain has changed since he sought the Republican presidential nomination in 2000, with Hagel serving as his national campaign co-chairman. No doubt, McCain would argue that Hagel has changed too.

That interaction is the most intriguing human thread weaving its way through this latest edition of Washington theater.

Back home, eyes will be on Senator Fischer, a member of the committee, and Sen. Mike Johanns. 

Neither is a Hagel vote yet.

* * *

If you wanted to appeal to Republican voters in a statewide primary election, a list of campaign proposals might begin to look something like this:

* Exempt Social Security benefits from the state income tax and exempt military retirement benefits from taxation.

* Require photo ID to cast a vote.

* Reinstitute the winner-take-all presidential primary system in Nebraska.

* Prohibit certain federal restrictions on firearms and magazines.

* Eliminate pre-natal care support for immigrant mothers who are in the country illegally.

Those are among the bills introduced in the Legislature this year by Sen. Charlie Janssen. 

Janssen has talked about the possibility of entering the 2014 Republican gubernatorial primary.

Haven't talked to him yet; don't know if he will do it. But if he decides to make a bid for the governorship, it looks like some seeds have been planted on the sprawling conservative portion of the Republican pasture over to the right.

* * *

Nebraska's vast 3rd District already is the least populated of the state's three congressional districts, and the disparity will grow before the 2020 census.

Growth in eastern Nebraska, particularly in the urban centers of metropolitan Omaha and Lincoln, is likely to build a substantial population disparity in the next eight years. It's a minor disparity today.

Here are newly-released figures from the U.S. Census Bureau: 1st District (Lincoln), 616,728; 2nd District (Omaha), 617,475; 3rd District, 608,438. 

One of the telling figures is the population of children under age 5 in each district. It is one of the glimpses into the future.

Here they are: 1st District, 42,689; 2nd District, 48,713; 3rd District, 39,580.

Finishing up

* Johanns has co-signed legislation to permanently ban appropriations earmarks, suggesting that would "help curb wasteful government spending."

* Perhaps a return to the tradition of sharply limited and judicious use of the Senate filibuster would be the best form of filibuster reform. And perhaps the most democratic response to efforts to gerrymander the Electoral College would be popular election of the president. At issue in both of these battles is the principle of majority governance.

* The Nationals are on a roll. After snagging Rafael Soriano and Dan Haren, they've now acquired William Howard Taft. Heavy hitter. 

* Meanwhile, the Yankee winter has been bleak. Toronto upgrades. Atlanta improves. The Dodgers go nutso. Major league climate change.

Reach Don Walton at 402-473-7248 or  dwalton@journalstar.com.

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