Choice in Hagel sparks mixed reactions
January 7th, 2013
11:37 AM ET
10 years ago

Choice in Hagel sparks mixed reactions

(CNN) - While President Barack Obama announced former Sen. Chuck Hagel as his pick to replace outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, a number of groups and political figures are responding with a range of reactions, from outright opposition to hesitant backing to full support.

Hagel's nomination on Monday has caused a stir from some on both sides of the aisle, with some of the former Republican senator's statements and positions relating to the gay community and foreign policy coming under the spotlight.

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He's been lambasted in particular for his opposition to unilateral sanctions against Iran, as well as for votes opposing labeling Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization.

Among the criticism, Hagel has also taken heat for a 2007 interview that some perceive as anti-Jewish, pointing to a quote in which Hagel said the "Jewish lobby intimidated lawmakers."

The national director of the Anti-Defamation League said Hagel would not have been his "first choice," but he respects the "president's prerogative."

"I trust that the confirmation process will provide an opportunity for Senator Hagel to address concerns about his positions, which seem so out of sync with President Obama's clear commitment on issues like Iran sanctions, isolating Hamas and Hezbollah and the president's strong support for a deepening of U.S. Israel strategic cooperation," Abraham Foxman said in a statement.

He further expressed "hope" that Hagel would elaborate on his comments about the "Jewish Lobby."

READ MORE: Administration official defends Hagel from GOP criticism

The National Jewish Democratic Council gave similar-though cautious-support, saying they expect Hagel to "follow the president's lead" in support for Israel.

"President Barack Obama's unprecedented pro-Israel credentials are unquestionable, and setting policy starts and stops with the President. While we have expressed concerns in the past, we trust that when confirmed, former Senator Chuck Hagel will follow the President's lead of providing unrivaled support for Israel - on strategic cooperation, missile defense programs, and leading the world against Iran's nuclear program."

Some senators hinted that Hagel can expect to get a full grilling in his Senate confirmation hearings. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday on ABC's "This Week" that whoever is nominated will get a "thorough vetting."

And speaking Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union," Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina labeled the former senator a "controversial" choice by Obama and didn't rule out staging a filibuster to prevent a vote on Hagel's nomination.

"Hagel, if confirmed to be secretary of defense, would be the most antagonistic secretary of defense towards the state of Israel in our nation's history," Graham told CNN Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley.

READ MORE: White House officials reach out to Jewish community to answer Hagel concerns

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, credited Hagel with his service in Vietnam and congratulated him on the nomination but went no further in offering support.

"I have serious concerns about positions Senator Hagel has taken on a range of critical national security issues in recent years, which we will fully consider in the course of his confirmation process before the Senate Armed Services Committee," McCaiin said in a statement.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York - who serves alongside McCain on the Armed Services committee - noted both Hagel's merits and her concerns.

"Senator Hagel is a war hero who served our country honorably and was prescient in his questioning of the Iraq war," she said. "But we must look at his entire public service record in its totality in the upcoming confirmation hearings. Considering some of the statements Senator Hagel has made, and votes he has cast, particularly regarding Iran policy, tough questions must and will be asked to clarify his views before these hearings are complete. I look forward to a fair and thorough process."

Meanwhile, some gay rights groups and activists have hit Hagel for his 1998 remarks questioning whether a nominee for an ambassadorship was suitable because he was "openly, aggressively gay." Hagel issued an apology for the remark in December. He's also received vocal opposition for supporting the Pentagon's former "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.

On top of a newspaper ad released last month, the Log Cabin Republicans took out a full page Monday in The Washington Post, saying Hagel's apology was "too little, too late."

However, prominent gay rights activist Rick Jacob, who heads the Courage Campaign, gave his full support for Hagel in a Huffington Post op-ed Monday.

"Let's be clear about one thing: no one trying to derail his nomination attacks his qualifications. Instead, they seek to score political points and/or act at the behest of powerful special interests by denying the president his choice as defense chief," Jacobs wrote.

Other political figureheads gave Hagel high praise. They cite his time serving in the Vietnam War, for which he was awarded two Purple Hearts, and his two terms in the Senate.

"To try to make this sound like it's a pick outside of the mainstream is absolutely ridiculous. Chuck Hagel has been widely regarded as one of the smartest people on defense and national security issues," Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut said Monday on CNN's "Starting Point with Soledad O'Brien."

READ MORE: Hagel speaks out, vows to 'set the record straight'

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, a Democrat from Michigan, said Hagel is "well qualified" for the job with his "broad experience in national security affairs."

"He was a decorated soldier and an effective member of the Senate, and he is a strong advocate for the men and women of our military," Levin said in a statement. "The Armed Services Committee will give prompt and careful consideration to Senator Hagel's nomination for this critical position."

Another Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, applauded Hagel and added she will support him in the confirmation process.

"I found him to be a knowledgeable and independent voice with a strong grasp of the pressing national security issues facing our country," said Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell said he "wholeheartedly" endorsed Obama's nomination.

"Chuck displays his courage in many ways. You can always count on him to analyze a difficult situation and take a position that reflects his best judgment," Powell said in a statement. "I believe that more than ever we need that kind of independent and bold leader who thinks in and out of the box. He is the kind of leader needed by the Department of Defense to deal with the strategic and resource challenges it will be facing over the next several years."

Democratic Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, a former Army Ranger who serves on the Senate Armed Services committee, said Hagel will make an "outstanding" secretary.

"He is highly qualified and his record of service to this country as a decorated combat veteran, successful CEO, senator, and statesman is extraordinary. Chuck is a man of uncommon independence and integrity. Chuck Hagel's candor, judgment, and expertise will serve him well as our next Secretary of Defense," he said in a statement. "I fully support his confirmation."

- CNN's Ashley Killough, Kevin Bohn, Jim Acosta, Adam Levy, Jill Dougherty and Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.

Filed under: Chuck Hagel • Department of Defense
soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. Harry Wells

    Looking forward to seeing how he handles Israel and AIPAC's stranglehold on US foreign policy. Great post, very informative!

    January 7, 2013 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  2. ST

    I really feel sorry for this man. He made mistakes like any other person. He has apologised. What more do people want him to do? It is hypocrite especially from GOP side who seem to care about the past now. By the way, were not republicans who said the past doesn't matter when the issue of "W" past bad behaviour was raised before he was elected? Still, they made him President not only once BUT twice.

    January 7, 2013 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  3. HenryB

    The GOP complaints either have nothing to do with real issues but rather politics, or it is because he has offended the Jewish (yes, Jewish) lobby and therefor the GOP which is a lapdog of the state of Israel. The more these GOP senators talk, the more I dislike them.

    January 7, 2013 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  4. Al-NY,NY

    go ahead and fillibuster will only make your "anti-Obama all the time" credentials better.

    January 7, 2013 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  5. J'Cincinnati'Redd

    I like the pick because this country is at its best when we empower
    Free thinkers.

    January 7, 2013 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  6. Rudy NYC

    I'm sure he would be better than Donald Rumsfeld. I still feel Rumsfeld used Iraq to make up for Vietnam.

    January 7, 2013 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  7. lolo

    People we will just have to show the GOP who actual votes them in. Please vote these clowns out . No matter what President Obama does they are against it. This country will never get on the right track with these old fools and their old ways of thinking. To think that they spent all the money they wanted and did not blink an eye now everything is a problem since President Obama was elected in 2008. People can say or think what they want, but this all just boils down to racism in the GOP and McConnell and Cantor are the ring leaders along with the TP wingnuts.

    January 7, 2013 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  8. 2012liberal

    Not hagel? How about a westly clark? Will that suit yr fancy? Obama could put up the real jew jesus and they would b against him!

    January 7, 2013 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  9. Rick 7809

    My guess is that if the President sponsored a bill that said "the sky is blue" the House GOP would vote against it. It is all too clear that the teapublican party is all about "make Obama fail" again. Did Rush come out with that again, I haven't been listening.

    January 7, 2013 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  10. Peace

    Folks, if this is not politics and opposing Pres. Obama own choice, what is it? With no shame Lindsey Graham is saying John Kerry is OK, they do not have problem with him. Really! these are the same people who accused Kerry (in 2004 Presidential bid) about saying some stuff during the Vietnam war. Now, it does not matter anymore as long as they are eyeing on his Senate seat. What matters now for them is what Hagel said!!! It is absurd.

    January 7, 2013 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  11. Shahin

    Sounds like even pronouncing the word "Jewish" has become a crime in the US. As long as you insult Islam, Muslim and Mohammed, everything's fine, but don't you dare say something about jews!

    Now let's see how many people will call me anti-semitic for posting this.

    January 7, 2013 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  12. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    President Barack Obama's unprecedented pro-Israel credentials are unquestionable, and setting policy starts and stops with the President. While we have expressed concerns in the past, we trust that when confirmed, former Senator Chuck Hagel will follow the President's lead
    Enough said, thank you.
    A Republican. The President is nominating a Republican who has offended at least two groups in the past: Gays and Jews. Let us not then fail to note that key representatives for BOTH of those groups are more than willing to TRUST the President's judiciousness in choosing Hagel, and that it is the Usual Right-Wing Suspects f that are agitatiing, and caterwauling.

    January 7, 2013 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  13. Matt

    I would not worry interfering in elections yeah, against advice. A lot of pull to get Ben out of that. Hot coals.

    January 7, 2013 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  14. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    People we will just have to show the GOP who actual votes them in. Please vote these clowns out . No matter what President Obama does they are against it
    They are not even funny clowns.
    Their tricks have become predictable and their schtick is staler than a 3 day old donught.
    Useless dung.

    January 7, 2013 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  15. Wake up People!

    @Rick7809. I must say I agree with you. If the POTUS were to nominate one of their mothers, they would be against it.

    I haven't heard anything from Rush, then again I can only take Fox News in 5 minute increments.

    January 7, 2013 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  16. Dan5404

    The GOP opposes Hagel for the primary reason that he abandoned their increasingly right-wing views and started supporting Obama. They also don't like that he pointed out the lobbying power of the Jewish, to whom the Republicans give carte blanche. That was not anti-Semetic, just an observation.The gay remark was uncalled for, but done at an earlier time when military people and the public in general were less tolerant. He has apologized. Generally, however, he has the military and Congressional experience to make a good defense secretary. Obama or any president should be able to pick their cabinet members without majotr interference.

    January 7, 2013 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |