Chuck Hagel's First Three Hurdles for Sec of Defense: Gays, GOP and Gaza

U.S. President Barack Obama smiles at his nominee for Secretary of Defense, former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel (R), at the White House in Washington January 7, 2013. (Photo: REUTERS)

Former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) was nominated by President Barack Obama on Monday as his new Secretary of Defense. Yet the three groups that appear likely to stand in the way of his nomination, not typically known for working together, include gay rights activists, Republicans and pro-Israeli organizations.

Hagel is not the first Republican lawmaker nominated by an incumbent Democratic president. In 1997, former President Bill Clinton nominated retired Sen. William Cohen of Maine to head up the Pentagon and he sailed through an easy nomination process.

However, it seems Hagel will not be afforded the same luxury and here are some of the more obvious reasons.

Gay activists on both sides of the political fence had taken shots at Hagel, mainly for his comments in 1998 when he called Clinton's choice for U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg, James Hormel, "openly, aggressively gay." Hagel has recently apologized, saying his remarks were "insensitive."

Immediately after Obama made it official he was nominating Hagel, the Log Cabin Republicans, a GOP leaning gay-rights organization, took out a full-page ad in The Washington Post opposing the nomination.

The ad also blasts the former Nebraska senator on his support for the Defense of Marriage Act and for his opposition to the military's 1999 "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.

"At Chuck Hagel's request, we looked into the 'totality' of his public record on gay rights, and it did nothing to assuage our concerns that his anti-gay record makes him the wrong choice to oversee the ongoing integration of gays and lesbians in the military," stated Gregory T. Angelo, interim executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans.

"Until his name surfaced as a potential nominee for Secretary of Defense, he has stood firmly and aggressively against not only gay marriage, but also against gay people in general. Log Cabin Republicans helped lead the charge to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell and is extremely invested in seeing that we don't lose any ground due to a lack of sincere commitment to gay people and their families on the part of the incoming Defense Secretary."

Not everyone in the gay community is opposing Hagel's nomination. Rick Jacobs of the Courage Campaign and Chris Barron, co-founder of GOProud, are backing the president on his Defense pick.

"This Hagel is 'anti-gay' smear campaign is disgraceful and a damn lie," tweeted Barron on Monday.

Unlike Cohen's nomination, Hagel is getting a lot of pushback from his fellow Republicans in the Senate. A quick poll of GOP senators on the Armed Services Committee taken by The Washington Post did not fare well for Hagel.

There appear to be four near-certain "no" votes for his nomination. They are Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Roger Wicker (Miss.), Ted Cruz (Texas) and David Vitter of (La.). Those thought to be leaning toward a no vote include Sens. Jim Inhofe (Okla.), John McCain (Ariz.) and Kelly Ayotte (N.H.).

Combined with four other senators who are undecided, it makes Hagel's chances of getting a recommendation from the committee improbable.

But why are Republicans upset with Hagel? Much of it may have to do with his criticism over President Bush's proposals for a troop surge in Iraq and for recommending the administration open up talks with Hamas over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Even Hagel's once close friendship with McCain appears to be all but over. In a statement released soon after Hagel's nomination was made public, the senior senator from Arizona said he has "serious concerns about positions Senator Hagel has taken on a range of critical national security issues in recent years."

The two statesmen shared a commonality of being decorated veterans in Vietnam, but according to sources close to both, they believe distance began growing between the two over Bush's foreign policy agenda.

"Quite simply, the split began over the length and cost of the Iraq war and Hagel's decision to not support the surge, which John took as a personal insult," one McCain ally granted anonymity to speak candidly about the relationship told The Washington Post. "It's very sad."

Hagel's third, but equally problematic hurdle is with supporters of Israel that includes many Democrats in the Jewish community.

In 2006, Hagel made comments that supporters of Israel found offensive when he was discussing how the Jewish lobby (including non-Jews who lobby for Israel) intimidates a lot of elected officials on Capitol Hill.

"I'm a United States senator. I'm not an Israeli senator. I'm a United States senator," said Hagel. "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. If I go run for Senate in Israel, I'll do that. Now I know most senators don't talk like I do."

Yet with all the criticism, he is not letting it go unanswered and has commented on how his record and prior comments have been taken out of context. "The distortions about my record have been astonishing," Hagel said.

He also maintains there is "not one shred of evidence that I'm anti-Israeli, not one vote that matters that hurt Israel. I didn't sign on to certain resolutions and letters because they were counter-productive and didn't solve a problem."

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (which is looked to by many to give feedback and guidance to Congressmen on all issues relating to Israel) has indicated they are not taking a stance on Hagel's nomination and will be sitting this one out.

"Our position remains the same as it always has been," said AIPAC's Marshall Wittman. "AIPAC does not take positions on presidential nominations."

The Christian Post