President Obama said over the weekend during an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he won’t rule out the nomination of former U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel as defense secretary over anti-gay remarks he made in 1998.
Asked by host David Gregory about Hagel’s now high-profile reference to then-nominee for U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg James Hormel as “openly aggressively gay” — remarks for which Hagel has since apologized — Obama said he sees nothing in the former senator’s record that disqualifies him for the position.
“Not that I see,” Obama sad. “I served with Chuck Hagel. I know him. He’s a patriot. He is somebody who’s done extraordinary work in the United States Senate, somebody who served this country with valor in Vietnam. And somebody who’s currently serving on my intelligence advisory board doing an outstanding job.”
The 30-minute interview was taped on Saturday in the White House, but wasn’t broadcast on TV until Sunday morning.
Additionally, Obama commended Hagel for apologizing for the anti-gay comments. In a statement to media outlets earlier this month, Hagel apologized for the remarks and said he’s committed to LGBT military families. The apology was accepted by LGBT groups, such as the Human Rights Campaign and OutServe-SLDN.
“And 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,” Obama said. “That’s something that I’m very proud to have led, and I think the anybody who’s serves in my administration understands my attitude and position on those issues.”
Obama’s remarks about the “positive change” in the country’s attitude toward gays and lesbians echoes similar comments he made during his recent interview with Time Magazine where he also noted the change in perception on LGBT issues.
Michael Cole-Schwartz, an HRC spokesperson, echoed the sense Hagel’s remarks reflect the country’s evolution as a whole on LGBT issues.
“As the President pointed out, we’ve seen a tremendous shift in attitudes on LGBT issues and we’re glad that Senator Hagel apologized for his statement and expressed his commitment to LGBT civil rights,” Cole-Schwartz said. “No matter who is the next defense secretary, we expect that person to ensure equal benefits for all military families and to carry out the President’s policies.”