In both cases, Democrats hold a 55-45 advantage in the Senate — good news for Hagel as his nomination gained some Democratic momentum this week with the backing of Sens. Chuck Schumer and Barbara Boxer. The two had expressed misgivings about whether he was sufficiently pro-Israel and anti-Iran.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., already were in Hagel’s corner, lauding the decorated Vietnam War veteran who would be the first enlisted man to head the Pentagon. Hagel met with Levin and Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., on Thursday in advance of his confirmation hearing on Jan. 31.
Tower was up against near unanimous Democratic opposition led by the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Georgia’s Sam Nunn, who argued that the nominee’s behavior was a disqualification. Tower’s history of alcohol abuse would prevent him from receiving a clearance “to command a missile wing, a (Strategic Air Command) bomber squadron or a Trident missile submarine,” Nunn said.
One of Tower’s fiercest defenders was Republican Sen. John McCain, who had met Tower when he was a Navy liaison officer to the Senate and considered the Texan his mentor. In the drawn-out fight over Tower’s nomination, McCain railed against what he considered the unfair treatment of the nominee, who had served as chairman of the Armed Services Committee.
“I think it is of the utmost importance that we establish a clear record of what is being done to a good and decent man by this incredible process of allegations, and indeed, what is being done in the way of standards to be set for future nominees and to the traditional relationship between the executive and legislative branches,” McCain said during the Senate debate in March 1989.
In the next few weeks, all will be watching McCain, who once was close to Hagel but split with his fellow Vietnam veteran over the Iraq war and the 2008 presidential race. Hagel did not endorse in that race, a snub for McCain, the GOP presidential nominee. Hagel’s wife, Lilibet, backed Obama.