Chuck Hagel’s past comments continue to haunt the man who is rumored to be President Obama’s top candidate for the position of Secretary of Defense. Last night an interview reemerged of Hagel insisting that James C. Hormel, President Clinton’s 1997 nominee to be ambassador to Luxembourg, was unqualified for his appointment because he was “openly, aggressively gay.” It didn’t take long before a prominent gay rights group declared his views “unacceptable.”
Now someone has posted audio of Hagel musing about the power of the “Jewish Lobby” in Washington, DC. Some Hagel defenders scoffed when Bret Stephens called out Hagel for “especially ripe” prejudice. This audio will make that scoffing much more difficult.
It’s difficult to believe that President Obama will want to spend the kind of political capital it will take to win what increasingly seems like a brutal nomination fight. In just the last hour or two Sen. John Cornyn, the powerful Republican whip, has declared his opposition to Hagel’s nomination. Perhaps appearances would be even worse for Obama, who would be seen as having abandoned Democrat and loyalist Susan Rice only to turn around and promote a putative Republican who indulges in rhetoric offensive to supporters of Israel and homosexual rights.
UPDATE: Hagel apologized this morning for his anti-gay comments in 1998:
Former Sen. Chuck Hagel, seeking to preserve his viability for nomination as secretary of Defense, on Friday issued a strong apology for a gay slur in 1998 that turned some top Democratic activists against his potential selection. …
With gay groups marshaling opposition, Hagel said in a statement provided by an aide: “My comments 14 years ago in 1998 were insensitive. They do not reflect my views or the totality of my public record, and I apologize to Ambassador Hormel and any LGBT Americans who may question my commitment to their civil rights. I am fully supportive of ‘open service’ and committed to LGBT military families.”
It is ironic that a prospective nominee for Secretary of Defense feels obliged to apologize not for being wrong on pretty much every defense issue of the last twenty years, or for a seemingly bigoted hostility toward one of America’s chief allies, or for attitudes toward some of our principal enemies that are, construed charitably, willfully blind; but rather, for having been unenthusiastic about the idea of openly gay ambassadors.