|Chuck Hagel Chuck Schumer|
By NBC's Chuck Todd and Domenico Montanaro
Submitted by Dan Friedman, NYC
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who is seen as a key to Chuck Hagel's becoming Defense secretary, is throwing his support behind the former Nebraska Republican senator -- despite past controversial statements on Israel, Iran, and the "Jewish lobby."
"Based on several key assurances provided by Senator Hagel, I am currently prepared to vote for his confirmation," Schumer said in a statement. "I encourage my Senate colleagues who have shared my previous concerns to also support him."
He added, "I know some will question whether Senator Hagel's assurances are merely attempts to quiet critics as he seeks confirmation to this critical post. But I don't think so. Senator 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. ... In general, I believe any President deserves latitude in selecting his own advisors. While the Senate confirmation process must be allowed to run its course, it is my hope that Senator Hagel's thorough explanations will remove any lingering controversy regarding his nomination."
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With Schumer's support, Hagel is seen as a likely shoo-in to win confirmation.
Full statement from Schumer's office:
U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer released the following statement Tuesday regarding the nomination of former Senator Chuck Hagel’s nomination for Secretary of Defense:
When Senator Hagel’s name first surfaced as a potential nominee for Secretary of Defense, I had genuine concerns over certain aspects of his record on Israel and Iran. Once the President made his choice, however, I agreed to keep these reservations private until I had the opportunity to discuss them fully with Senator Hagel in person.
In a meeting Monday, Senator Hagel spent approximately 90 minutes addressing my concerns one by one. It was a very constructive session. Senator Hagel could not have been more forthcoming and sincere.
Based on several key assurances provided by Senator Hagel, I am currently prepared to vote for his confirmation. I encourage my Senate colleagues who have shared my previous concerns to also support him.
In our meeting Monday, Senator Hagel clarified a number of his past statements and positions and elaborated on several others.
On Iran, Senator Hagel rejected a strategy of containment and expressed the need to keep all options on the table in confronting that country. But he didn’t stop there. In our conversation, Senator Hagel made a crystal-clear promise that he would do “whatever it takes” to stop Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons, including the use of military force. He said his “top priority” as Secretary of Defense would be the planning of military contingencies related to Iran. He added that he has already received a briefing from the Pentagon on this topic.
In terms of sanctions, past statements by Senator Hagel sowed concerns that he considered unilateral sanctions against Iran to be ineffective. In our meeting, however, Senator Hagel clarified that he ‘completely’ supports President Obama’s current sanctions against Iran. He added that further unilateral sanctions against Iran could be effective and necessary.
On Hezbollah, Senator Hagel stressed that—notwithstanding any letters he refused to sign in the past—he has always considered the group to be a terrorist organization.
On Hamas, I asked Senator Hagel about a letter he signed in March 2009 urging President Obama to open direct talks with that group’s leaders.
In response, Senator Hagel assured me that he today believes there should be no negotiations with Hamas, Hezbollah or any other terrorist group until they renounce violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist.
Senator Hagel volunteered that he has always supported Israel’s right to retaliate militarily in the face of terrorist attacks by Hezbollah or Hamas. He understood the predicament Israel is in when terrorist groups hide rocket launchers among civilian populations and stage attacks from there. He supported Israel’s right to defend herself even in those difficult circumstances.
In keeping with our promises to help equip Israel, Senator Hagel pledged to work towards the on-time delivery of the F-35 joint strike fighters to Israel, continue the cooperation between Israel and the U.S. on Iron Dome, and recommend to the President that we refuse to join in any NATO exercises if Turkey should continue to insist on excluding Israel from them. Senator Hagel believes Israel must maintain its Qualitative Military Edge.
Regarding his unfortunate use of the term “Jewish lobby” to refer to certain pro-Israel groups, Senator Hagel understands the sensitivity around such a loaded term and regrets saying it.
I know some will question whether Senator Hagel’s assurances are merely attempts to quiet critics as he seeks confirmation to this critical post. But I don’t think so. Senator 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.
On issues related to female and LGBT service members, Senator Hagel provided key assurances as well. He said he is committed to implementing the Shaheen amendment to improve the reproductive health of military women. He also supports the full repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
In general, I believe any President deserves latitude in selecting his own advisors. While the Senate confirmation process must be allowed to run its course, it is my hope that Senator Hagel’s thorough explanations will remove any lingering controversy regarding his nomination.
After Reassurances On Israel And Iran,
Chuck Hagel Wins Key Senators' Votes
By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON | Wed Jan 16, 2013 12:15am GMT
(Reuters) - Former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel's chances of becoming the President Barack Obama's defense secretary received a critical boost on Tuesday when two leading Senate Democrats said they had decided to vote to confirm him.
U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, the No. 3 Democrat in the Senate, and Senator Barbara Boxer, a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Hagel had eased their concerns over Hagel's positions on Israel, Iran and other issues.
"Based on several key assurances provided by Senator Hagel, I am currently prepared to vote for his confirmation," Schumer said in an extensive statement. "I encourage my Senate colleagues who have shared my previous concerns to also support him."
Critics including Republican legislators and conservative pro-Israel groups have sought to portray Hagel as anti-Israel and as someone who is not committed to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, accusations he strongly denies.
White House staffers arranged the 90-minute meeting between Schumer, a leading Jewish-American legislative voice, and Hagel, which took place at the White House and was kept secret until Schumer's announcement.
Schumer was initially offered a telephone interview with Hagel, but Schumer said he would rather meet face-to-face. The New York Democrat called both Obama and Hagel on Tuesday morning to inform them that he was about to issue a statement announcing his support, a Democratic Senate aide said.
Boxer had held off announcing her support. On Tuesday, she said Hagel would have her vote - after they had a long conversation and he wrote her a letter spelling out his positions on Iran, Israel and the treatment of gays and women in the military.
"We spoke for quite a while last week and I was very pleased with that conversation," Boxer told reporters on a conference call from California, her home state.
"I urge more of my colleagues to come out because from what I've seen is there seems to be a Republican push here to really go after Senator Hagel, which is really quite disturbing," Boxer said.
A decorated Vietnam veteran who split from fellow Republicans by opposing the U.S.-led war against Iraq, Hagel was nominated by Obama on January 7 to replace outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
IRAN, ISRAEL, BUDGET
Republicans say that are concerned that Hagel opposes sanctions and is satisfied with containing Iran, as opposed to preventing it from obtaining a nuclear weapon. They also worry that Hagel would not prevent deep Pentagon budget cuts.
Some conservative senators have already declared their intention to vote against the former Nebraska senator.
Jim Inhofe, the top Republican on the new Senate Armed Services Committee, which will hold confirmation hearings, said he met with Hagel on Tuesday and opposes his nomination. He cited issues including Hagel's refusing to sign a letter affirming solidarity with Israel in 2000, voting against extending sanctions on Iran in 2001 and support for nuclear disarmament.
"We are simply too philosophically opposed on the issues for me to support his nomination," Inhofe said in a statement.
Schumer said Hagel rejected a strategy of containment for Iran. "Senator Hagel made a crystal-clear promise that he would do 'whatever it takes' to stop Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons, including the use of military force. He said his 'top priority' as Secretary of Defense would be the planning of military contingencies related to Iran."
Hagel also promised to continue a program to deliver F-35 joint strike fighters to Israel, continue cooperation on Israel's Iron Dome interceptor system and recommend that the United States refuse to join any NATO exercises if Turkey continues to insist that Israel be excluded from them.
The Armed Services committee will hold confirmation hearings at the end of the month or in early February, Senate aides said.
Republicans also criticized a 2006 reference by Hagel to the influence of the "Jewish lobby" in Washington. Hagel has acknowledged that he misspoke and his defenders say such concerns are overblown.
"He told me that if there's one thing in his life that he'd like to take back, it's that," said Boxer, who served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with Hagel for 10 years and is Jewish.
Hagel has spent much of the past week calling and writing senators whose votes could be crucial for his confirmation.
Hagel met on Tuesday with newly elected Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, a new Democratic member of the Armed Services committee and close Obama ally. In a statement, Kaine said the discussion had been "positive and productive" and he looked forward to the next phase of the confirmation process.
Hagel is expected to garner votes from all 53 Senate Democrats and between 10 and 15 Republicans, according to one observer who has been counting votes.
(Additional reporting by Kim Dixon, Phil Stewart, Mark Hosenball and Tom Ferraro; editing by Cynthia Osterman)