Hagel’s Own Words are Fodder for Critics
Chuck Hagel was blunt-spoken in the Senate, even when bucking fellow Republicans. Now opponents in his own party and elsewhere are using Hagel’s words against him.
The Vietnam veteran and former two-term senator from Nebraska will need to explain some of his comments and views as President Barack Obama’s choice for the next secretary of defense. A look at past remarks likely to come up during his confirmation hearing:
Hagel, who says he’s a strong supporter of Israel, stirred bad feelings by referring to pro-Israeli interests as "the Jewish lobby" and suggesting they wield undue power in Washington.
"The Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people. ... I’ve always argued against some of the dumb things they do, because I don’t think it’s in the interest of Israel," Hagel told former Mideast peace negotiator and author Aaron David Miller in a 2006 interview.
Hagel continued: "I’m not an Israeli senator. I’m a United States senator. I support Israel, but my first interest is, I take an oath of office to the Constitution of the United States, not to a president, not to a party, not to Israel."
His remarks have been denounced by some of his former Senate colleagues, including John McCain of Arizona, the past ranking member of the Armed Services Committee. The panel’s incoming top Republican, Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, said he was "aware of the serious concerns" about Hagel’s comments and record that would be vetted during the confirmation process.
Some lawmakers and pro-Israel activists criticize Hagel for seeking direct negotiations with Iran over its disputed nuclear program and sometimes opposing sanctions against Iran. They were angered by his suggestion that Iran be at the table for talks on future peace in Afghanistan. And many view him as too soft on Hamas and Hezbollah.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., declared that if confirmed, Hagel "would be the most antagonistic secretary of defense toward the state of Israel in our nation’s history."
Hagel tried to quiet his critics Monday, telling the Lincoln Journal Star in Nebraska that there is "not one shred of evidence that I’m anti-Israeli, not one (Senate) vote that matters that hurt Israel."
In 1998, Hagel opposed President Bill Clinton’s nomination of James Hormel as ambassador to Luxembourg, saying a gay man couldn’t be effective as a top diplomat.
"They are representing America," Hagel told the Omaha World Herald. "They are representing our lifestyle, our values, our standards. And I think it is an inhibiting factor to be gay - openly, aggressively gay like Mr. Hormel - to do an effective job."
The remark was revived after Hagel’s name emerged as a likely choice for the defense nomination, and gay rights groups denounced it as bigoted.