On the same day that Democratic Sen. Charles E. Schumer said the president’s choice to become Defense secretary assuaged his concerns regarding past statements about Israel and Iran, among others, the top defense policy Republican in the Senate rejected the nominee.
The statement Tuesday by Schumer, of New York, is a bellwether among pro-Israel Democrats concerned about former Nebraska GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel’s views on Israel. Indeed, Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., a senior member of the Foreign Relations panel, also said she would support the nominee. Boxer, like Schumer, is Jewish.
But Oklahoma Sen. James M. Inhofe, ranking Republican on Armed Services, was unmoved by his meeting with Hagel on Tuesday, saying, “we are simply too philosophically opposed on the issues for me to support his nomination.”
Nonetheless, pronouncements by Schumer and Boxer could isolate some elements of the GOP caucus hostile to the nomination of Hagel.
Schumer said in a written statement that Hagel met with him Monday for 90 minutes and addressed, in detail, point-by-point concerns Schumer had about Hagel’s support of Israel, his belief in sanctions as a means to dissuade Iran from developing a nuclear weapon and his support for maintaining the threat of military force should Iran continue to seek these weapons.
Schumer said Hagel also stated that he believed Hamas and Hezbollah are terrorist organizations, and that there should be no direct negotiations with those groups unless they renounce their hostile intentions toward Israel — a reversal of a past position. Hamas controls the Palestinian Gaza Strip, which borders Egypt and Israel; Hezbollah is based in Lebanon, along Israel’s northern border.
“Based on several key assurances provided by Sen. Hagel, I am currently prepared to vote for his confirmation,” Schumer said. “I encourage my Senate colleagues who have shared my previous concerns to also support him.”
Addressing concerns often expressed by elements within the GOP that Hagel might simply say what he needs to say to receive confirmation, Schumer said he did not believe Hagel was simply offering lip service.
“I know some will question whether Sen. Hagel’s assurances are merely attempts to quiet critics as he seeks confirmation to this critical post,” Schumer said. “But I don’t think so. Sen. Hagel realizes the situation in the Middle East has changed, with Israel in a dramatically more endangered position than it was even five years ago. His views are genuine, and reflect this new reality.”
Hagel also has made comments in the past relating to gays and lesbians that raised concerns among liberals. Schumer said Hagel had offered important assurances in that area as well.
“He said he is committed to implementing the Shaheen amendment to improve the reproductive health of military women,” Schumer said of a proposal by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H. “He also supports the full repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which permitted the service of gays and lesbians in the military so long as they were not openly gay. The repeal (PL 111-321) effectively permits gays and lesbians to live their lives openly.
Hagel, who likely will face a confirmation hearing before Senate Armed Services in the coming weeks, suffered a setback when Inhofe came out against him.
Inhofe in a statement expressed concerns in particular about Hagel’s support for further spending reductions at the Pentagon.
But Inhofe, while noting that he and Hagel remain friends, said he also could not get past Hagel’s unwillingness in 2000 to sign letter “affirming U.S. solidarity with Israel.
“In 2001 he was one of just two senators who voted against extending the sanctions against Iran,” Inhofe continued. “A year later, he urged the Bush administration to support Iranian membership in the World Trade Organization. Given the current tension in the Middle East that is largely being instigated by the Iranian regime, I am concerned with Sen. Hagel’s views.”
Inhofe expressed further concern that Hagel is a proponent of nuclear disarmament.
“Although we are opposed on issues, we are still friends,” Inhofe said. “This is one of those rare times when policy differences don’t stand in the way of personal relationships.”
But Hagel won Boxer’s support after she received a letter from the nominee Monday.
“I asked him about a number of issues — including America’s special relationship with Israel, the threats posed by Iran to the world and the treatment of women and gay and lesbian members of our military — and his answers were reassuring and show a sensitivity and understanding of these issues,” she said in a written statement Monday night.
In the letter, Hagel repeated his apology for the use of the phrase “Jewish lobby,” which he said was “a poor choice of words” that he only used once.
“I was a strong supporter of Defense appropriations, which provided enduring support for Israel’s security,” he wrote. “Most Americans, myself included, are overwhelmingly supportive of a strong U.S.-Israel strategic and security relationship.”
Boxer told reporters in a conference call Tuesday that she had not heard that Schumer had thrown his support behind the Hagel nomination, but upon hearing it she said, “Good.”
When asked what it meant that she and Schumer came out in support of Hagel, Boxer said, “I think Chuck and I reached our decisions very independently of one another, and for people who respect our views on a host of issues, it should make them feel good. From what I am seeing, there seems to be a Republican push here to really go after Sen. Hagel. I think it is good we came out today quite independently.”
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.