Republican Chuck Hagel will be confirmed as the next U.S. secretary of defense even after a contentious hearing in which he was assailed by members of his own party, said President Barack Obama’s senior adviser, Dan Pfeiffer.
“There’s no question that there will be more than 50 votes to confirm” Hagel, Pfeiffer said in an interview with Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend. “We’re very confident of that.”
Hagel, 66, a former Nebraska senator, spent hours on Jan. 31 answering questions from fellow Republicans about why he opposed the 2007 U.S. troop surge in Iraq and about his stances on nuclear arms reduction and Israel policy. Still, Pfeiffer said he’d be “disappointed and surprised” if Republicans used procedural moves to block their former colleague’s confirmation.
Pfeiffer also discussed the economy, immigration legislation in Congress, Obama’s second term, criticism of insularity at the White House and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the interview.
Obama won’t set a firm deadline for offering his own legislation to create a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented workers, so long as “progress is being made” by a bipartisan coalition in the Senate, Pfeiffer said.
Obama has said he wants forward movement by March, yet Pfeiffer declined to put a cutoff date on the action.
“We’re going to see if they’re making progress, but we can’t wait forever,” he said. “We can’t have this fall victim to endless debate.”
While Obama “believes strongly” that same-sex couples should have the same protections as heterosexual couples under any new immigration law Congress passes, Pfeiffer stopped short of saying the president would consider the issue a deal-breaker. “We’ll see what their product is in the end,” he said.
Obama’s first chief of staff, Emanuel, a former congressman and now Chicago’s mayor, was the White House force who shepherded Obama’s health-care expansion through Congress in 2010. Pfeiffer said there’s no single point person at the White House for immigration.
He cited deputy chief of staff Rob Nabors and Denis McDonough, the deputy national security adviser who assumes the job of Obama’s fourth chief of staff next week, as two among “a lot of people” who will assume that role for immigration.
“Rahm would be the first to tell you it’s going to take more than one person to be the Rahm Emanuel of anything,” Pfeiffer, 37, said.
One of McDonough’s priorities, Pfeiffer said, is to bring in experienced outsiders from “both parties and different administrations” to advise the White House on enacting Obama’s agenda and ways to help the country.
“We’ve heard the criticism that we’re too insular, and I’m sure sometimes that’s right,” Pfeiffer said. He said that doesn’t stem from a lack of respect. “Sometimes in the White House you’re just trying to get through the five minutes in front of you and you don’t have time to reach out to folks.”
With a report yesterday showing 157,000 jobs were added in January, and the unemployment rate increased to 7.9 percent from 7.8 percent, Pfeiffer said it would be “bad for the economy” if Congress fails to reach a deal to stop budget sequestration, or automatic federal spending cuts, from starting on March 1.
“We’re disturbed by reports that Republicans who decried the sequester said it would be the end of civilization as we know it during the election campaign, now seem comfortable letting it go -- having it go into effect,” Pfeiffer said.
Pfeiffer said the jobs report also shows there are “some hopeful signs in housing” while the nation still is creating “not enough” jobs.