Alexander said he plans to meet with Hagel next week, and is withholding a decision until he gets more details from the nominee. Portman, another former Senate Armed Services Committee member, said he continues to have concerns about Hagel’s nomination and is interested to hear what his colleagues who served with Hagel think.
Working on Democrats
More broadly, while Hagel has drawn heavy fire from some Republicans, particularly when it comes to his views on Iran and the U.S. nuclear arsenal, he has had to spend an unusual amount of time trying to appease Democrats in the Senate, often through multiple phone calls and meetings.
Hagel has worked to explain a past statement where he called Israeli lobbyists the “Jewish lobby,” votes in which he opposed sanctions against Iran and his calls for direct talks with that nation. Hagel has made negative comments about gays for which he has apologized. He has voted on several occasions to deny female service members the right to abortions in military facilities.
These issues, for some Democrats, have stood in stark contrast with the policies of the Obama administration. First, the administration does not speak directly with Iran and has supported the toughest unilateral sanctions to date, although, as a candidate in 2008, President Barack Obama also called for dialogue with rogue leaders. The president also lifted restrictions on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military and recently signed into law changes enabling women to receive abortions in military facilities.
At a time of heady social changes in the military, Democrats have noted the apparent incongruity between the positions taken by Hagel in the past and the course set under the Obama administration.
Democrat Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, the first openly gay senator, had expressed concerns about comments Hagel made in 1998 about an ambassador nominee he called “openly, aggressively gay.” She said Tuesday that she had a “very productive meeting” with Hagel last week covering a wide range of issues.
Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has met with and spoken to Hagel several times. Gillibrand is a strong advocate for the rights of women, gays and lesbians. She also represents a state with strong ties to Israel.
“I was able to express my concerns with some of his past statements and votes, with regard to Iran and Israel, with regard to women’s rights and LGBT rights, and we had a significant conversation on each of those topics,” she said. “I felt his answers were sincere and he was determined to enforce the policies of the Obama administration. He assured me he would be a leader on women’s rights and gay rights and implement the repeal of ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ and stopping the degree of violence against women in the military.”
But Gillibrand stopped short of endorsing Hagel, as have a number of lawmakers in her conference.
Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., said Monday that his tallies to date showed “no ‘no’ votes” for Hagel among Democrats, whose caucus holds a 55-seat majority.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.