President Obama is expected to announce Chuck Hagel for the position of Secretary of Defense on Monday. The move has already garnered some opposition from Republican Senators, who say Hagel, a former Republican Senator from Nebraska, is too liberal for the post.
Indiana Senator Dan Coats said, “There have been grave concerns about this possible nomination among Republicans and among people who know and have served with Chuck Hagel. We watched Chuck take positions that are, frankly, many of them are to the left of Barack Obama.”
South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham said, “I can tell you there would be very little Republican support for his nomination. At the end of the day, there will be very few votes.”
Meanwhile, Florida Senator Marco Rubio has indicated he’d oppose Hagel’s confirmation, unless Hagel withdraws his opposition to the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba.
Critics allege Hagel would be too soft on Iran, due to his opposition to the United States imposing sanctions, to questioning his stance on Israel. Hagel was quoted as saying, “I’m not an Israeli senator. I’m a United States senator.”
Others are upset with a remark Hagel made in 1998, opposing what he called an “openly aggressively gay” ambassador to Luxemburg, for which he’s apologized.
Hagel served in the infantry during the Vietnam Conflict, receiving two purple hearts. He worked as a lobbyist for four years, then helped to organize Ronald Reagan’s 1980 Presidential campaign. He served as deputy administrator for the Veterans Administration for two years under Reagan, then went into business, becoming a multi-millionaire. In 1997 he was elected the first Republican Senator from Nebraska in twenty-four years, against then-governor Ben Nelson. In 2002, he won re-election with 82% of the vote.
During his time in the Senate, he voted for the PATRIOT Act, for the Bush tax cuts, against No Child Left Behind, and for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, though he soon became a critic of the wars and of President Bush.
Should Hagel be confirmed as SecDef?
“He’s too liberal” – Really? He received a lifetime rating of nearly 84 percent from the American Conservative Union and got A and B grades from the National Taxpayers Union. Specifically, over his twelve years in the Senate, he got eight B+'s, three A's, and one C+. To compare, Lindsey Graham, who some would consider the ideological leader of the TEA Party in the Senate, got a C in 2008, a low grade Hagel never got. Hagel's lifetime rating with the ACU is only four percentage points below Graham's, and six points below Coats'. He actually has a higher lifetime conservative rating than Arizona Senator and 2008 Republican Presidential candidate John McCain.
Hagel hasn’t been afraid to criticize his own party or the President. Some would call him a turncoat, while others might call him an independent mind. Would you rather have a puppet or an independent mind as SecDef?
“He opposes the U.S. embargo against Cuba” – So? The SecDef doesn’t have ultimate authority to lift the embargo – the President or the Congress would have to do it. Beyond that, is the embargo really a national security issue? We don’t trade with Cuba because they’re a communist country and have a mixed human rights record, but we have no problem trading with China, a communist country with a one-child policy and sweatshops.
“Few Republicans would support him” – When Republican Senators refuse to vote for a former Republican Senator, you know our system is broken. In effect, they’re voting against themselves.
“He’s insensitive toward gays” – I can’t imagine any Republicans using this argument against Hagel. For any LGBT groups that are uneasy with Hagel, they should look toward President Obama. The President has worked to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the policy which forbids gays from serving openly in the military. President Obama has taken lead on this issue of gay rights. Hagel might’ve said some things in the past, but he’s apologized for it, and at the end of the day, it’s President Obama, not Hagel, who determines our policy toward gays in the military.
“He’s soft on Israel, Hamas, Iran, etc.” – If that’s true, so what? The President sets the policy. If President Obama wants sanctions on Iran, which he has clearly supported in the past, then it's Hagel’s duty to comply with the President’s policies.
If Hagel is unable or unwilling to follow the President’s policies, then he’s insubordinate and unfit for a cabinet post. But this isn’t something the Senate has to decide.
This is between Hagel and President Obama.
In private, it's healthy for Hagel to have his own mind and to give the best advice he can to the President. The last thing a President needs is a cabinet of "Yes Men".
In public, Hagel must refrain from criticizing the President. That might or might not be a challenge for him. Even if he disagrees with the U.S. relationship to Cuba, Hamas or Iran, he must follow the President’s lead, something he isn't obliged to do as a lowly Senator.
The fact is that these two know each other quite well, Hagel and Obama. They know where they stand on the issues. If they understand they have some disagreements, and President Obama still wants Hagel as his SecDef, then the Senate should confirm it.