Hagel’s nomination to take over the Pentagon drew criticism from his own party, and even Republican former colleagues. They claimed that he wasn’t sufficiently supportive of Israel and opposed the Iraq War. During his nomination hearing and the party-line vote in the Senate Armed Services Committee, Cruz acted like the prosecutor he once was. In a break with Senate etiquette, he brought in audiovisual exhibits to make his case.
But it was his suggestion, offered without any evidence, during the committee vote that foreign governments such as Iran and North Korea were supportive of Hagel and may have paid him for speeches since he retired from the Senate in 2008 that provoked fireworks.
“I would suggest to you that to my knowledge, that is unprecedented: to see a foreign nation like Iran publicly celebrating a nomination,” Cruz said.
If Hagel is confirmed, he said, “it will make military conflict in the next four years substantially more likely, because in my view Chuck Hagel’s being confirmed will only encourage the nation of Iran to continue and accelerate its program to develop nuclear weapons capacity.”
He also questioned why Hagel wouldn’t identify all the sources of his funds, though the committee’s chairman, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said the former Nebraska senator had testified that he didn’t receive any monies from foreign sources.
“It is at a minimum relevant to know if that $200,000 that he deposited in his bank account came directly from Saudi Arabia, came directly from North Korea,” Cruz said, “and I have no evidence to suggest that it is or isn’t, but his statement was that he could not even tell this committee that $200,000 did not come directly from a foreign government.”
“Sen. Cruz has gone over the line,” an angry Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said during the session. “He basically has impugned the patriotism of the nominee.”
Even Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who’d sharply questioned Hagel during his nomination hearing, defended his former colleague in the face of Cruz’s attack.
“I just want to make it clear Sen. Hagel is an honorable man,” said McCain, who, like Hagel, is a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War. “He served his country. And no one on this committee at any time should impugn his character or his integrity.”
Ornstein called Cruz’s attempt to link Hagel to anti-U.S. governments a “McCarthy-esque” echo of the era when then-Sen. Joseph McCarthy led anti-communist witch-hunts in the 1950s, fueled by innuendo that destroyed many government and Hollywood careers.
Cruz’s allies don’t see a problem.
“A lot of us who were big supporters of Ted Cruz are kind of shaking our heads about this so-called controversy,” said Jeff Judson, a Texas tea party member and a senior fellow at the Heartland Institute, an advocacy group for free-market and anti-regulatory policies. “His supporters in Texas are saying this is an example of what’s wrong with Washington.”