Gibbs: Hagel was 'unimpressive and unprepared' during hearing
February 3rd, 2013
02:19 PM ET
9 years ago

Gibbs: Hagel was 'unimpressive and unprepared' during hearing

(CNN) - Robert Gibbs, former White House press secretary and senior adviser to the president's re-election bid, said Sunday that President Obama's nominee for defense secretary didn't perform too well during his confirmation hearing last week.

Gibbs, however, expressed confidence that former Sen. Chuck Hagel would be confirmed and would make "a good secretary of defense."

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"The disconcerting thing, obviously, for anybody that watched it, was he seemed unimpressive and unprepared on the questions that, quite frankly, he knew was coming," Gibbs said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

During his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Hagel faced questions about some of his past controversial statements and positions, including his opposition to the 2007 troop surge in Iraq.

Hagel, a senator from Nebraska at the time, called the George W. Bush administration's surge proposal "the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam."

Sen. John McCain, a robust supporter of the strategy, grilled his old friend repeatedly on the topic at the confirmation hearing, asking Hagel if he was right or wrong for opposing the surge.

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

Hagel didn't give a one-word answer, offering instead to try to explain his position. "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, however, continued to demand a more succinct response.

Gibbs on Sunday said the exchange was a "vanity thing for John McCain to try to prove to a former friend that disagreed with him, that he was right on the surge and that Chuck Hagel was wrong."

But Gibbs argued none of the Iraq questions were relevant to the situations that will confront the next secretary of defense.

He pointed to Tim Geithner, who served as treasury secretary during Obama's first term, as an example of someone who faced a difficult beginning but went on to serve a largely respected tenure as secretary.

"We get into all these kerfuffles about one hearing or a few answers," Gibbs said.

"Chuck Hagel is an infantryman who's had to execute the orders of the secretary of defense and the commander in chief and understands what those people go through. And he's going to be a good secretary of defense."

- CNN's Rachel Streitfeld contributed to this report.

soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. Peace

    Come on Gibbs, the man is prepared to fight the enemies abroad and not his former senator friends, who tried very hard to betray him during the hearing.

    February 3, 2013 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  2. Jason Alexander

    If Hagel knew of just one senator who was intimidated by the Jews or just one dumb thing the senate did because of the Jews, but did not say it, then he is a coward. If he didn't know, and he made those comments, he is trading in the worst anti-Semitic type of allegations imaginable - that of a vast unidentifiable Jewish conspiracy that is working against the best interests of the nation. And, yes, this is exactly what happened in the McCarthy hearings and in Nazi propaganda. He was testifying under oath before the American people. He should speak the truth. That he didn't know anything about the allegations he made, well . . . Do you want that man as Secretary of Defense?

    February 3, 2013 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  3. Woman In California

    It wasn't a matter of Hagel being unprepared. Hagel simply underestimated McCain and the other thugs in their neverending quest, to hurt the president even if it means hurting "one of their own" to do so. They looked like mean spirited, dying dinosaurs, clinging to hold on to some sort of relevance and failing miserably to do in the process. I think Chuck Hagel now knows THE GAME, and he'll be more than ready when he meets these "gentlemen" the next time around.

    February 3, 2013 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  4. confused

    @Peace: The oath that he did take, said verbatim, "against ALL enemies, foreign and domestic". Other than that, i dont believe he had the cunning tongue that he c/sh/would have "needed" to get through anyways. Not saying that I dont think he will work out, but I dont get that sayso.

    February 3, 2013 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  5. Evergreen

    "Unimpressive and unprepared." He is a republican, what do you expect. Maybe the President should look for a democrate to fill this position. If his own party says he is not qualified, who am I to disagree.

    February 3, 2013 05:56 pm at 5:56 pm |
  6. Nancy

    Mc Cain and Ted Cruz are both rabid attack dogs.

    February 3, 2013 05:57 pm at 5:57 pm |
  7. Larry L


    Come on Gibbs, the man is prepared to fight the enemies abroad and not his former senator friends, who tried very hard to betray him during the hearing.
    ========================================================================================== You are spot-on target! He will make an outstanding Sec Def.

    February 3, 2013 06:16 pm at 6:16 pm |
  8. Name lynn

    chuck an robert is confuse people, they need to shut up an take a back seat.

    February 3, 2013 06:23 pm at 6:23 pm |
  9. Ancient Texan

    Even the Democrats know that Hagel wasn't prepared, had no knowledge of the job at hand and is grossly unqualified, but they will vote for him because Obama said to.

    February 3, 2013 08:13 pm at 8:13 pm |
  10. GuyinVA

    "Unimpressive" and "unprepared" for questions he knew were coming. Add to that his calling the Iranian government elected and legitimate, and his hostility to Israel (or at least the "Jewish lobby" – where's Chris Matthews and his racist "dog whistle"?). Put them all together, and of course... he'll be confirmed.

    February 3, 2013 08:31 pm at 8:31 pm |
  11. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    I can't recall from all the sound bites from the media have aired if there were any questions that pertained to what he would do as head of the DoD. Did they know what they were grilling him over?

    February 3, 2013 11:10 pm at 11:10 pm |
  12. J.V.Hodgson

    I used to watch Senate confirmation hearings, and others but have now almost completely stopped.Why?
    1) Because they are now just a way of proving how far away from the average voters thinking they the senators are.
    2) The use of extremely partisan positions to " block " nominations makes me sick. That one senator alone can delay a confirmation almost ad infinitum is nonsense.
    3) Finally the worst part is that Senators of all shades and sides have come to regard these as a TV show where they play act a part as dramatically as they can to set up a pre = desired ( but regretably for them unscriptable) response, which when they dont get it they pursue like the fox let loose in chicken coop!!.
    And the media behaves like the lap dog they are supposed to be, a lap it all up and spalsh it around all over the place... never mind real facts.
    4) Consequently all nominations have become witchhunts not questioning to determine capabilty or suitability
    So what gets aired ad nauseum:-
    a) HRC Rand Paul if I were ( had been) president etc you would have been fired. He was not is not and based on that one nonsense, never will be President.
    b) McCain the Surge did it work yes or no... give me a break it's what Hagel said; more complex than that and history will decide.
    For me just a plain simple guy it did not work in terms of what it was supposed to achieve. Had it done so
    The political situation now in Iraq would be much more stable and it is not. It also meant the so called democracy left behind told us point blank get out all military because we no longer held the keys to demand what we get elswhere of freedom for our soldiers from local prosecution, so we are out and rightly so; and remember the basis on which we went in was false in the first place. QED the question of a surge is an effite not necessary to debate question.
    Mc Cain tying to protect his sanguinity?
    The semantics of Jewish lobby or Israeli lobby does not mean he is unsympathetic to The israeli country, but either or thru money do in a way Intimidate votes C/f gun lobby where no-one denies such influence,
    If it were not so sad these things have become simply politically meaningless soap operas!!

    February 4, 2013 12:29 am at 12:29 am |
  13. Donna

    Hagel was train wreck. He didn't look or sound capable of running a lemonade stand, let alone the Defense Dept. Just when you thought Obama couldn't dredge up anybody more incompetent than Eric Holder, he drops this loser on us. I am honestly starting to think he is trying to sabotage the entire government by appointing total idiots to high level positions.

    February 4, 2013 12:41 am at 12:41 am |
  14. Phyllis G Williams

    He seemed very MEEK. Meekness is not weakness, it is "strength under control" (smile) (Numbers 12: 3)

    February 4, 2013 08:02 am at 8:02 am |