January 31st, 2013
12:34 PM ET
1 year ago

Old friends McCain and Hagel spar at hearing

Washington (CNN) – Sen. John McCain fired away at Cabinet nominee Chuck Hagel during his confirmation hearing Thursday on Capitol Hill, repeatedly interrupting his old friend and accusing him of refusing to answer direct questions.

The sharp exchange marked a years-long falling out between two long-time friends and colleagues. Thirteen years ago, McCain, then a presidential candidate, named Chuck Hagel as a man he'd like to see run the Defense Department.

But more than a decade later, McCain relentlessly tore into that same man, now a former Nebraska senator and nominated to that very post by McCain rival President Barack Obama.

"Let the record show that he refused to answer that question," McCain said during the markedly heated back-and-forth.

McCain's question – about whether Hagel repudiated his opposition to the 2007 troop surge in Iraq – was the origin of a deep policy split between the former allies.

In 2007 Hagel called the George W. Bush administration's surge proposal "the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam," while McCain threw his support behind the move – which is now widely considered to have been a success.

In his 2008 presidential battle against McCain, then-Senator Barack Obama reversed his position on the surge, acknowledging it had achieved its objectives.

On Thursday, McCain pushed Hagel to reconsider his position.

"The Committee deserves your judgment as to whether you were right or wrong about the surge," McCain said. "Are you going to answer the question, Senator Hagel? The question is were you right or wrong. That's a pretty straightforward question. I would like to answer it with whether you were right or wrong and then you are free to elaborate."

Hagel would not answer yes or no, but instead offered to explain what he said was a nuanced position.

"Well, I'm not gonna give you a yes or no," he said. "I think it's far more complicated than that and as I've already said, my answer is I'll defer that judgment to history."

McCain offered a stern rebuke.

"I think history has already made a judgment about the surge, sir, and you're on the wrong side of it and your refusal to answer whether you were right or wrong about it, it's going to have an impact on my judgment as to whether to vote for your confirmation or not," McCain said. "I hope you will reconsider the fact that you refused to answer a fundamental question about an issue that took the lives of thousands of young Americans."


Filed under: Chuck Hagel • John McCain
soundoff (62 Responses)
  1. EatRunDive

    "Let the record show that Sen. Hagel refused to get off my lawn," McCain said.

    January 31, 2013 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  2. Curt

    McCain should remember that history has made a judgement on him already when he chose Palin as his running mate and to this day will not admit he was wrong. He has no right to judge anyone. Hagel is a true Vietnam war hero . Don't think he gave in and ended up denouncing the country. All I can say is thank God McCain did not become president. It really is time he retired.

    January 31, 2013 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  3. ST

    Where is Bobby Jindal to tell McCain one more time: "We have talk like adults". Watching McCain on this hearing, reminds my young ones the way they talk to each other.

    January 31, 2013 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  4. tor5

    Hagel should ask McCain if he has EVER opposed sending troops anywhere at anytime. I respect his service, but if McCain were president now we'd not only be escalating our presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, but would also have troops in Egypt, Libya, Syria, etc., etc.

    January 31, 2013 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  5. ron

    John McCain is nothing but another sellout to whoever will give him the most. For him to even be involved in anything important in the government is an absolute joke and speaks volumes about just how stupid the GOP really is. Definately needs to be term limits so old fools like this one are forced out before they become an embarrasment for the whole world to see.

    January 31, 2013 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  6. DMoneyx2

    Good grief Charlie Brown...tell me McCain has more important matters at hand...

    January 31, 2013 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  7. norma jean

    John McCain needs to step back and shut up He is striking out at everyone about every thing just to keep his face infront of the public..BUT HE IS MAKING A FOOL OF HIMSELF... He has had his place in the sun and due to some very unfortunate choices such as Sarah Palin he is yesterdays news!!!!......TIME TO RETIRE JOHN!!!!!

    January 31, 2013 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  8. Facts don't Lie

    I am starting to think that Sen McCain along with Sen Graham is starting to lose it. With some of the things both these two have said and done in recent weeks I am seriously starting to wonder if it's more than just being a "sore loser". McCain had always been one of my favorite Republicans in fact I was giving him a very serious look in 08 before he made the fatal mistake of choosing Palin. And those who claim Graham is "in the closet" so to speak are really insulting the LGBT community as a whole.

    January 31, 2013 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  9. sonny chapman

    The "Surge": Many who opposed it back then always knew that the US Military could do it's part. Put enough troop activity to tamp down the multi-faceted aspects of the Insurgency. The doubt, justifiably so, was in the ability of the various Iraqi factions to be able to come together. It turns out that like all Civil Wars, there had been enough revenge & purging of territory that relative calm set in after the successful Military Operation. Repubs. were/are so desperate to re-claim 'Victory" that this is their rallying point to try & influence History's Judgement of this whole Grand Mid-East Experiment. Doing so leaves us ripe to make the same mistake again down the road. We went from 1975 until 2003 w/out repeating 'The Mistakes of Vietnam". Hopefully we'll go as long between Military Misadventures. No Draft; I doubt it.

    January 31, 2013 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  10. California Gary

    Thanks for a good laugh eatrundive........I think we should all refuse to get off McCain's lawn, maybe even break a gnome or two, and see what he does.

    January 31, 2013 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  11. MIke

    The way Hagel hearings are going shows the Power of Israel Lobby and how they have Senators and Members of congress in their Pocket. it is clear Isareal has comitted many attrocities on Palestains and slaughtered innocent People. They cannot hide on what Hiltler did to them. what they are doing now is the same. some of our senators should be ashmed about them self for Blindly supporting Israel.

    January 31, 2013 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  12. MIke

    you cannever count on Mccain support. Because of fabricated evidence they received from Israel we went to war in Iraq. the Many American soliders got Killed and the Mr.Mccain isa responsible for their Death as that war was creted by him. step down Mr.Mccain.

    January 31, 2013 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  13. Joe

    I lost alot of respect for McCain back in the Irag war after a very bloody bombing at a market he was walking through it saying how safe it was and there were no security issues, Yeah, no security issues for someone walking with 300 troops surrounding him and helicoptors flying over head. More important question, was Hagel in favor of those wars to begin with??

    January 31, 2013 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  14. Arun

    McCain is a has been politician. In 2000 I thought he could be someone I would vote for because he portrayed himself to be middle of the road. The only thing this loser cares about is being politics and not how he can help solve the countries problems. He, like Romney, has flipped on so many issues that it only shows they only care about themselves. Romey is gone, hopefully John will be the next to get lost we don't need his kind in politics!!

    January 31, 2013 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  15. Facts don't Lie

    I am starting to think if Obama had chosen McCain for the job instead, McCain would attack himself. Anything to go against the guy he lost to in 08.

    January 31, 2013 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |
  16. plain&simple

    One man is bitter,the other current and in tune with the times. One yearns for the glory of the past...the other wants to never repeat It's mistakes! Everyone knows which is which.

    January 31, 2013 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |
  17. waheid

    McCain has for too long posed as an expert on defense and foreign affairs. He is neither. Worse, he is a tireseome publicity-hungry blow-hard. Hardly a day goes by that we don't hear McCain pontificating on something or other. I honestly believe the man is senile, or is well on his way. He would be well advised to sit down, shut up and try to stay out of the news for awhile.

    January 31, 2013 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  18. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    Hagel gave an appropriate answer. He knew that McCain would rip into him if he said the surge was a bad idea. The other side of the coin would have McCain tear into Hagel if he said it was a good idea because it would be "flip-flopping" on the subject. FirstRead has some notation about Hagel thinking the whole invasion into Iraq being a bad idea.

    January 31, 2013 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  19. Wake up People!

    Would someone please tell this fossil to sit down and shut up. Enough of the tough talk. He is irrelevant and has been since 08. He's still stinging from losing to that Muslim.

    January 31, 2013 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  20. Dreamer96

    Lindsey Graham should go back and look at the Hainan Island incident a US EP-3 is hit by a Chinese Fighter Jet and forced to land at a Chinese military airbase......and held...And after that incident finally cooled down the Israelis sold a version of their electronic data collection aircraft to the Chinese....Which was technology given to them by the USA.....

    Lindsey Graham also should consider Chuck Hagel was protecting the power of Congress by not voting to call Hamas a terrorist organization....If they had then they would be giving the President the right to attack HAMAS with out talking to Congress first......

    Lindsey Graham sends a chill up my spine just thinking what he would do if he was president.....

    January 31, 2013 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  21. Rudy NYC

    sonny chapman wrote:

    The "Surge": Many who opposed it back then always knew that the US Military could do it's part. Put enough troop activity to tamp down the multi-faceted aspects of the Insurgency. The doubt, justifiably so, was in the ability of the various Iraqi factions to be able to come together.
    -----------------
    Number of troops didn't make difference. It was the more than $2 billion in cash bribes that negotiated truces that did it.

    January 31, 2013 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  22. Squigman

    McCain, has no friends. At least none that haven't been used in some way, or another. He's a bitter man, that believes the world revolves around being the senior obstructionist voice of the republican party. He needs to be voted out, or retired.

    January 31, 2013 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  23. Roger

    Someone please tell Sen. McCain it is time to head on back to Arizona and sit on the porch and reflect – perhaps write a book – but he no longer adds anything to the national conversation. His lack of manners and respect was most evident today and the professionalism expected of a United States senator was nonexistent. He is a sore loser never having gotten over his defeat to President Obama in 2008 – cannot let go of the fact that President Obama was then re-elected in 2012 and will do anything to sabatoge the President's agenda, policies or even his nominees. Go home Senator – we honor your service but you have nothing left to contribute.

    January 31, 2013 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  24. Bill from GA

    Referring to W's surge proposal as " now widely considered to have been a success ":

    I suppose that is why Iraq is now considered to be a shining example of peace and Democracy in the Muslim world.

    That is why Iraq is now safe for Sunni and Shiite, living alongside each other in Brotherhood, Compassion, Understanding.

    No doubt the surge is the reason the World looks to Iraq as an example of successful American Influence in Foreign Affairs. And without doubt worth each American life lost from the Surge, and every American limb lost.

    Yes, the Surge is now widely considered to have been a success.

    Not By Me.

    January 31, 2013 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  25. Bill from GA

    Would someone ask McCain if he was right or wrong about Palin?

    Oh, that's right, he still stands behind that decision. So much for his judgement.

    January 31, 2013 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
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