WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Monday nominated former Nebraska GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense, stirring widespread criticism from both sides of the political establishment in Washington.
Even LGBT advocacy groups remained divided over their support of the nomination, and many expressed doubt over Hagel’s credibility on LGBT issues.
In a full page ad in the Washington Post on Monday, the Log Cabin Republicans took exception to the President’s choice, blasting Hagel’s LGBT rights record:
“At Chuck Hagel’s request, we looked into the ‘totality’ of his public record on gay rights, and it did nothing to assuage our concerns that his anti-gay record makes him the wrong choice to oversee the ongoing integration of gays and lesbians in the military,” stated Gregory T. Angelo, Interim Executive Director of the Log Cabin Republicans.”
“Until his name surfaced as a potential nominee for Secretary of Defense, he has stood firmly and aggressively against not only gay marriage, but also against gay people in general,” the Log Cabin ad stated.
In 1998, Hagel opposed President Bill Clinton’s nomination of James Hormel as ambassador to Luxembourg, saying as a gay man he couldn’t be effective as a top diplomat.
“They are representing America,” Hagel told the Omaha World Herald. “They are representing our lifestyle, our values, our standards. And I think it is an inhibiting factor to be gay – openly, aggressively gay like Mr. Hormel – to do an effective job.”
The White House fired back Monday morning — Valerie Jarrett, Obama’s senior domestic advisor, defending Hagel’s nomination:
“Recently, some in the LGBT community have expressed concerns about Senator Hagel’s past comments.
In response, Senator Hagel issued a statement in which he apologized for comments that he made in the 1990s, and affirmed both his commitment to LGBT civil rights as well as his support for open service and the families of gay and lesbian service members.
One of the great successes of the LGBT civil rights movement is that it provides the space and opportunity for people to change their hearts and minds, to right past wrongs, and, over time, to evolve.”
Obama himself defended his choice, and in an appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press last week, said Hagel’s apology is “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.”
“I think that anybody who serves in my administration understands my attitude and position on those issues,” Obama said.
OutServe-SLDN Executive Director Allyson Robinson, a group that represents active duty reserve and retired LGBTQ service members, called Hagel “an exceptionally qualified nominee for Secretary of Defense.”
“If confirmed, he will be an effective leader for the Pentagon. Significant challenges remain for LGBT service members and their families, however, and it’s long overdue that our Secretary address those challenges,” she said.
Other LGBT advocacy groups indicated that they would adopt a “wait and see” attitude.
“We continue to express our concerns about the nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense due to his poor track record on LGBT equality and reproductive rights,” said Rea Carey, Executive Director National Gay and Lesbian Task. “Though Hagel has recently apologized for past anti-gay remarks, we expect him to fully explain his views during the confirmation process and what steps he intends to take as defense secretary to demonstrate his support for LGBT members of the military and their families.”
A source in the U.S. Senate told LGBTQ Nation on Monday that Hagel’s confirmation hearing promises to be a bruising fight in the Senate, as some GOP regulars privately expressed doubts over Hagel’s positions on support for Israel and his statements on Iran.