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Barney Frank opposes Hagel for defense secretary

Update: Frank has walked back his opposition to Chuck Hagel. “With the attack coming out of the right, I hope he gets confirmed,” he said on Dec. 7, the day President Obama nominated the former Nebraska senator as defense secretary. Frank said that he had hoped President Obama wouldn't pick Hagel but that "the question now is going to be Afghanistan and scaling back the military."

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) has come out against Chuck Hagel's potential nomination as the next secretary of defense, due to the Nebraska senator's past derogatory comments about a gay ambassador. 

"I cannot think of any other minority group in the U.S. today where such a negative statement and action made in 1998 would not be an obstacle to a major Presidential appointment," Frank said in a statement. Moreover, he argued, the "aggressively bigoted opposition" to the ambassador was not "an aberration" but part of a record of voting against gay rights. 

In 1998, Hagel opposed the nomination of a gay philanthropist, James Hormel, to be ambassador to Luxembourg, saying that an “openly aggressively gay” diplomat might be ineffective. Under pressure from gay rights groups earlier this month, he said those comments did not reflect his views and apologized for them. 

Frank is retiring, and even if he stayed in the House he would have no control over the matter -- Cabinet appointees are approved by the Senate. But it's possible that Frank will be chosen as an interim senator to replace Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who is in line to become secretary of state.

Whether or not he's ever in a position to block Hagel's nomination, Frank's comments carry weight -- he was the first openly gay member of Congress.

Obama defended Hagel on "Meet the Press" on Sunday, pointing out that the former senator had apologized for his comments.

“I think it’s a testimony to what has been a positive change over the last decade in terms of people’s attitudes about gays and lesbians serving our country," the president said.  

The Log Cabin Republicans, a gay Republican group, has also come out against Hagel. Hormel himself has said that while the timing of Hagel's apology "appears self-serving," the mea culpa itself is "significant."

Rachel Weiner covers local politics for The Washington Post.

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