The biggest factor in determining whether former GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel will win confirmation as Defense Secretary won't come from his former Republican colleagues in the Senate, but from influential senators in the president's own party. Hagel's litany of past comments criticizing pro-Israel interest groups and less-than-enthusiastic support of the Jewish state will put a handful of prominent Democratic senators with a long record of supporting Israel under pressure.
None will be on the spot more than New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, one of the leading Democratic advocates of a strong U.S.-Israel relationship. Schumer passed up the opportunity to endorse Hagel's qualifications in an appearance on Meet the Press last month. It's notable that Schumer, usually a fierce, partisan advocate for the president's agenda, pulled his punches. If Schumer doesn't offer quick unequivocal backing of Hagel after he's nominated, it's a clear sign the nomination could be in trouble.
Schumer isn't the only Democrat to watch as the confirmation battle begins. New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, the expected chair of the Foreign Relations Committee in the next Congress, is a leading Democratic hawk on Iran whose views on the subject are at odds with Hagel's. Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey, representing a swing state where Jewish voters are a key constituency, is another stalwart ally of Israel who is likely to be under pressure to oppose Hagel. And the minyan of Jewish Democratic senators, particularly Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg, Michigan Sen. Carl Levin and California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, will be worth watching closely.