January 31st, 2013
12:34 PM ET
9 years 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. Sniffit

    "ā€œIā€™d be honored to have Chuck with me in any capacity,ā€ "

    That's John McCain in 2008, answering a question about whether he'd put Hagel in his cabinet.

    January 31, 2013 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  2. Name Kevin

    I am so tired of McCain trying desperately to smear the President at every turn, he needs to get over the fact that the President beat him back then and mopped the floor with the GOP now, so going after Hagel just makes him look like a grumpy old man.

    January 31, 2013 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  3. Common Cents

    Man, Hagel is trolling McCain hard! I'm starting to like this guy. I learned a long time ago that you can't win an argument with the irrational. All you can do is make them more mad and look crazy. McCain is using a confirmation hearing to get Hagel to say "I'm wrong, and you're right". Ridiculous. His answer was excellent.

    January 31, 2013 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  4. pkrbkr

    Let's find John McCain a nice Veteran's Home and get him out of the way in Washington. He's one of the original "Grumpy Old Men" and looksand acts the part! Oh, yes, I guess he wouldn't need to go the a veteran's home.....he has 5 or 6 personal homes he could retire to! I'm really tired of his negativity and so are many others! Gert over it, John, YOU LOST!

    January 31, 2013 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  5. Partyforever

    In my honest opinion, I think the troop surge in Iraq and Afghanistan was a huge mistake. 1. The victories were won by technology MRAP – if you didn't have protection, you could go nowhere and do nothing in Iraq. 2. The drone strikes turned out to be the most effective technology in Afghanistan.

    The only long term solution is to train the new Iraqi and Afghan forces, to arm them. That is where in my opinion the most money should have been spent. Drone strikes, intelligence, MRAP, the long term peace keepers. Now these forces might not be ready to take over once the US leaves. That is why Pres. Obama is considering leaving 9,000 troops as trainers and advisers and intelligence officers. I support those moves.

    A troop surge is very important in the initial stage of an insurgency when they try to take as much enemy territory as possible. That helps to gain complete control over the country quickly and limits their insurgency actions. An insurgency can possibly be stopped in the early stages. But what the US was facing in Iraq and Afghanistan, was a permanent insurgency from Pakistan and Iran – and that means someone has to permanently solve that problem. The only people that could permanently reside there was the Afghans and Iraqis.

    January 31, 2013 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  6. Laverne

    I guess the only way John McCain can stay relevant is to act like a fool and throw a temper tantrum every chance he gets. He has turned into a bitter, old man who will hate Obama until the day he leaves this earth. He is such a sore loser!

    January 31, 2013 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  7. Sniffit

    "Old friends McCain and Hagel spar at hearing"

    FORMER friends McCain and Hagel spar at hearing.


    Friends don't do what McCain is doing to Hagel, putting his myopic self-interests and party politics above having the integrity to stay consistent after having in the past publicly praised Hagel's foreign policy and national security expertise, his service to the country as a soldier and Senator and his intelligence and thoughtfulness in choosing which policies to support. This is backstabbing of th ehighest order playing out right in front of us.

    January 31, 2013 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  8. Brian Wickremasinghe - Woodland Hills

    There are no permanent friends or permanent enemies – only permanent interests.

    January 31, 2013 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  9. S

    He's not qualified to run defense, but Palin was qualified to be vp..., really?

    John its time to retire, let the record show you are making a fool of yourself.

    January 31, 2013 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  10. beevee

    This old fool McCain should not be questioning Mr. Hagel at all. I am positive that questioning will not be in the interests of the country other than score settling between two enemies. McCain himself said that he would wnat hagel to run the defense deaprtment if he bacame the president. So what changed it? The only thing now is that they are no longer friends and McCain would oppse Hagel's nomination as a get back but not in the interests of the country. What a moron.

    January 31, 2013 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  11. Rudy NYC

    McCain is just jealous that Romney didn't win. He would have been one of top choices for this post had Romney won.

    January 31, 2013 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  12. lolo

    Please vote McCain out. His time is over. Such a sore loser and hypocrit to boot. Let him go home and take care of his eight houses. He thinks that he is the only one who should be considered for any position because of his war record and then he turns on other people who have served in the military. The GOP just does not get it period. Wake up America and vote these clowns out.

    January 31, 2013 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  13. Sniffit

    McCain can't really fly a plane too well, but boy can he backstab like a champ.

    January 31, 2013 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  14. ART

    Mccain has 0 credability, he does not even seem like the same man I once admired and respected. He really needs to retire and bow out gracefully before he does irreparable damage to his reputation. Even after Palin it still may not be to late, but he really is embarrassing himself every time he opens his mouth.

    January 31, 2013 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  15. Name VA865

    I would love to see what's really going on in mcpain brain's. .. I'm sure I'll see bitterness, and hate ....

    January 31, 2013 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  16. Name lynn

    Mccain an Hagel need to buy a box of no more gray an dye their hair, an put some boxing gloves on a let the match take place, an we the people watch the loser an the winner.

    January 31, 2013 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  17. Sniffit

    Hagel was correct on the troop surge. Just because you can look back in hindsight and point to a lucky result doesn't mean someone was wrong for opposing the exrtaordinarily risky actions that led to said lucky result.

    January 31, 2013 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  18. DOG1

    The real reason the right wing machine is down on Hagel, even beyond the Israel thing, is that he's taken the position that there could be reasonable cuts in military spending and that having our soldiers/sailors serve and die in useless wars is wrong. The people that pull McCain's $tring$ and those of the other hawks like him in congress absolutely cannot have that. They make way too much money off of completely unnecessary military spending, to the point that they did whatever they could to make sure we had people like Bush and cheney in power to insure we were involved in a war or two. Of course it's ok cause it's the poor people who wear the uniform and get killed, not their kids.

    January 31, 2013 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  19. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    McCain is "sparring" with the wrong person again; first he shadow boxes with President Obama and lost that fight when he should have sparred with Sarah Palin before picking her and helping him loose. McCain has no credibility and needs to retire to his rocking chair.

    January 31, 2013 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  20. Rudy NYC

    Sniffit wrote:

    Hagel was correct on the troop surge. Just because you can look back in hindsight and point to a lucky result doesn't mean someone was wrong for opposing the exrtaordinarily risky actions that led to said lucky result.
    It has been long argued that the "success" of the Iraq surge had more to do with the more than $2 billion in bribes that were handed out to buy cooperation and peace with various villages. Remember those dozen pallets of cash that they lost?

    January 31, 2013 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  21. Bob

    McCain: Failed pilot, snitched on his fellow prisoners, corrupt, senile......

    January 31, 2013 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  22. Dreamer96

    Senator John McCain seems to forget that the GOP disbanded the Iraqi Army and sent 250,000 Iraqi troops home without a job and no money...and within days looted the Iraqi Army depots and blew up the Iraqi oil wells and oil pipelines..destroyed the electrical power plants and water pumping stations, and then looted the cities for food and supplies and started making IED's and blowing up our troops.....That was the GOP's plan .....The Iraq war was to make sure all of Reagan's WMD's were gone....Reagan used GWBush, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney to supply Saddam...

    We spent billions trying to build schools, power plants and other systems in Iraq and they were blown up before they even opened for business.....Because the GOP fired 250,000 trained Iraqi troops....

    Deb Fisher should read why Ronald Reagan had nuclear arms reduction talks with the Soviet Union and NATO.....Go read an article in Peace Magazine Oct-Nov, 1986 ..Al banning interviews Mike Wallace about the real risk of Nuclear launch PALS, accidental nuclear launch by any one of the three sides...USA. NATO, or the Soviet Union.....And about the procedure in NATO during a High Alert ...the automatic release of nuclear Pal locks ...allowing low level NATO commanders to order a nuclear missile launch...The problems found in the USA system and the problems the Soviets knew about their own system...The risk of Accidental launch of Nuclear ICBM was getting higher than any of the three wanted....That is why the Soviet Union agreed to reduce the number of nuclear weapons...

    January 31, 2013 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  23. simp

    Mc cain is a bitter old man who lost to President in 2008 and now with the President winning a second term mccain is foamin at the mouth and ready to jump on anybody the President wants in his cabinet. I get so tired of senile old losers like mccain, they need to have a term limit most of these dinosaurs need to go home and play golf.

    January 31, 2013 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  24. Jack in Florida

    John McCain has become irrelevant and is looking for attention.......friends like that we can do without!!!

    January 31, 2013 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  25. They ought to change from the elephant to the hippo...

    The "surge" was a band-aid needed to stop the bleeding from a failing Bush policy of trying to win a war on the cheap.

    January 31, 2013 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
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