December 20, 2012

Let me get this right. The president wants as his secretary of defense a Republican, not just any Republican but the unusual one who has been out of the mainstream on Israel and dabbled in anti-Semitic lingo. Oh, and he is opposed to gays serving openly in government. And for this the Democratic base turned out in droves in November?


Sen. Pat Toomey and other Republicans are voicing objections to Chuck Hagel. (AP)

The anti-gay issue surfaced last week when the Human Rights Campaign began expressing misgivings about former senator Chuck Hagel. Today that hit the mainstream press with an article on Hagel’s vocal opposition in 1998 to James Hormel’s selection for an ambassadorial spot. Buzzfeed explains:

Some LGBT rights groups are already criticizing the potential selection of Hagel to replaced Leon Panetta.

Hagel was a long-time supporter of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, which banned gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military. In 1999, he told The New York Times, ”The U.S. armed forces aren’t some social experiment.”

 

And between 2001 and 2006, Hagel received a score of zero from the Human Rights Council, with no votes on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a job discrimination bill, and the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which eventually was passed into law as part of the National Defense Authorization Act in 2009.

Well, that’s not really someone a Republican president could expect to get through the Senate without a fight, right? Why would a Democratic one even consider him? Hagel’s fate was likely sealed today when the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, which raised loads of cash for President Obama, called Hagel’s remarks “unacceptable” and suggested he’d have a hard time serving in government with his negative views of gays.

Frankly this sounds like the Democrats are now trying to off-load Hagel with tips to sympathetic journalists about his anti-gay record.

Meanwhile, Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) makes a forceful statement in opposition to Hagel: “I have deep concerns about Sen. Hagel’s attitude toward Israel and his approach toward dealing with Iran. If President Obama nominates Sen. Hagel for Secretary of Defense, I intend to seek explanations regarding his opposition to sanctions, his support for negotiating with Hamas, and his view on America’s ongoing relationship with Israel.” It is no coincidence that in 2010 Hagel weighed in on Toomey’s Senate race in favor of Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.), whose Israel record was roundly criticized. Toomey, I am certain, owes no Senatorial courtesy to Hagel.

 Then Sen. Marco Rubio’s spokesman almost, sort of said he’d consider a hold on Hagel over his pro-Cuba views. (“Promoting democracy in Latin America is a priority for Sen. Rubio, and he’s put holds on other administration nominees over the issue. If President Obama were to nominate Sen. Hagel for a cabinet position, I’m sure we would have questions about Cuba positions.”) Is there any Republican who does not have serious concerns and would welcome the opportunity to bloody him up in a confirmation fight?

Why was Hagel ever the front-runner? Well, there are a couple of theories.

One is that the president has this self-image of himself as a bipartisan guy who has tried gamely to break the deadlock in Washington. But that is bunk and voters know the parties differ on big issues. We had an election about choosing between the two. Moreover, the only bipartisan goodwill created by Hagel is, ironically, the appearance of liberal and conservative concerns about him. Sure, bringing both sides together in the spirit of bipartisanship to oppose Hagel is an accomplishment, but not one the president wants.

The other theory is that Hagel’s antagonistic view toward Israel, his opposition to the Iraq war (belatedly) and his preference for aggressive cuts to the military all resonate with Obama. They confirm his (conservatives would say, worst) national security instincts.

Whatever the explanation, it was a rotten idea. I suspect along with the eggnog and mistletoe, Hagel will disappear after the holidays.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.