Chuck Hagel grilled in confirmation hearing (LIVE BLOG + VIDEO)



Former US Senator Chuck Hagel, US President Barack Obama's nominee for secretary of defense, sits at the start his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on January 31, 2013.


Saul Loeb



Republican Chuck Hagel, the former Nebraska senator nominated by President Barack Obama to be his next secretary of defense, testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee today as part of his confirmation hearing. The hearing began at 9:30 a.m.

UPDATE: 1/31/13 6:15 PM ET

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UPDATE: 1/31/13 6:09 PM ET

Hagel: defense position a 'tremendous opportunity,' thinks coming years 'defining' for US

In response to Democratic Senator Jack Reed's question about qualifications, Hagel said he discussed his interest in the position with President Barack Obama. 

"When he asked me why I'm qualified, I said I'm not," Hagel said, arguing that any number of people would be able to take on the job. "I said, Mr. President, I'm not going to sit here and try to convince you I'm the right person," he continued, countering that with a list of his accomplishments and positions held.

The reason Hagel pursued it, he said, was "because [of] the tremendous opportunity and important time that we are living in, and the opportunity we now have to make a better world. I think the next few years will be as defining and important for this country as the years following World War II."

He later added: "I think, always in the end, like any job, judgment is the ultimate determinate of anything. I think experience is a factor ... but all that ends up in judgment. I hope that, if I'm confirmed, to give the president and the country, wise, informed, and honest advice." 

Will he be confirmed? That, of course, is the critical question. The Guardian said there's a possibility there will be third round of questioning ahead of the vote. In any event, today's hours-long cross-examination certainly tested Hagel's "stamina," The Guardian observed, concluding that's something he's "likely to need for his work in the department of defense."

UPDATE: 1/31/13 5:12 PM ET

Ted Cruz vs. Hagel, round 2

Following in Inhofe's footsteps, Texas Republican Ted Cruz has also made a hostile return, appearing in the second half armed with a series of quotes supposedly encapsulating Hagel's policy positions. He earlier attacked the nominee on his record with a fancy multimedia presentation, Slate pointed out, apparently trying to cast Hagel as either a threat or a flip-flopper. Questions have already been raised as to the validity of Cruz's portrayal, but here's a quick (paraphrased) summary of what went down in round 2: 

Cruz: Do you think sanctions against Iran are a good thing today?

Hagel: Yes.

Cruz accuses Hagel of opposing them in the past. There's a little debate as to the nature of such sanctions then and now -- unilateral, not unilateral, and so on. Cruz wants to get to the point, cutting in with: "Today, do you think unilateral sanctions would be a bad idea?"

Hagel starts to list his reasons for opposition in 2001. Cruz interrupts, repeating the question. Hagel answers: "Not today, 12 years later." 

Next up, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (refresher on them here). Cruz asks Hagel if he considers them terrorist group, or not. 

After some back-and-forth, Hagel states: "It is part of a government that supports terrorism." Cruz wants to know if that is a "yes or no?"

"It's the answer I just gave you," Hagel responds. 

Cruz: OK, so in a 1998 Senate hearing you said the US had tilted too far to the state of Israel in terms of peace process. Is that still your position? 

Hagel immediately takes issue with the quote, saying he doesn't remember saying that. Asked once more for his position, Hagel answers: "No, I don't think the United States has tilted too far to Israel," adding that he support the current US position. 

Cruz is not placated, however. He told senators Hagel's history "demonstrates greater antagonism to Israel than any other member of this body."

Israel, for its part, has not voiced an opinion. In Jerusalem, GlobalPost senior correspondent Noga Tarnopolsky said, "I'm pretty sure the Israeli government has no position on any US nominee to any position," adding, "I have not heard a word on Hagel." Read more on that here

UPDATE: 1/31/13 4:13 PM ET

Inhofe returns 

Republican Senator James Inhofe, who opened the Senate hearing six hours ago by aggressively interrogating Hagel, is back. About 20 minutes ago he took the floor again to ask about the appropriateness of providing US military equipment to Egypt, according to the Guardian. Hagel responded by pivoting to the president, adding that he thinks Egypt-US relations should remain flexible. 

Who is Inhofe? He's the Senate's arch conservative, reportedly even dressing up as Senator John McCain for Halloween, according to this tweet shared by PBS' Gwen Ifill: 


Read more about the lawmaker here

UPDATE: 1/31/13 4:35 PM ET

Hagel wishes he could 'edit' past comments

Sen. David Vitter, a Republican who already said he would not vote for Hagel's confirmation, called Hagel's positions "dramatic flipflops," highlighting remarks Hagel had made in the past 15-20 years.

Hagel's response was a measured, "If I had a chance to edit a lot of things in my life senator, I'd be fairly busy."

In response to an earlier question from Republican Sen. Mike Lee, Hagel said, "If I had an opportunity to edit that, like many things I've said, I would like to go back and change the words and meaning."

The Republican line of questioning has been consistently focused on Hagel's comments on Israel and Iran.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Republican from Utah, reportedly said, "I was disappointed to hear that Chuck Hagel did not do real well today – that's what I've heard from almost everybody," according to the Wall Street Journal. "I question whether he’ll make it. I had believed that he would up until now.. But I’ve heard from two or three guys on the floor including one Democrat that he did not do well today."

UPDATE: 1/31/13 4:13 PM ET

Twitter is buzzing with reaction to Hagel’s testimony

[View the story "Bloggers react to Chuck Hagel Senate grilling" on Storify]

UPDATE: 1/31/13 3:30 PM ET

Israel comments haunt Hagel

The 2009 interview with Al Jazeera that made an appearance during Hagel's confirmation hearing today can be found below.

Cruz asked Hagel, "Do you think the nation of Israel has committed war crimes?"

To which Hagel responded, "No, I do not, senator. I'd want to look at the full context of the interview, but to answer your question, no."

The interview can be watched below:

The caller poses the question: "First of all, I believe very strongly the current leadership around the world, there is a moral failure going on... For example, if you look at Palestine there is a war crime and they are not dealing with it. In Sudan, they are dealing with it. They are really biased justice.... There is a genocidal war going on in Sri Lanka and nothing being done. My question is... these leaders, there is a moral failure. Unless we bring these leaders to a moral standard nothing can be done. What do you think about it."

"Well, I think you're exactly right, and I said in my opening statement that that leadership is critical."

GlobalPost senior correspondent Noga Tarnopolsky commented from Jerusalem on the larger issue of the Israeli government's stance on Hagel as a nominee: "I'm pretty sure the Israeli government has no position on any US nominee to any position. It would be very inordinary for it to comment on such a matter. I have not heard a word on Hagel."

Meanwhile, a United Nations report published on Thursday did find Israel's settlements violated the Geneva Conventions.

"The report states that a multitude of the human rights of the Palestinians are violated in various forms and ways due to the existence of the settlements," said a press release.

Read more on the UN report here.

UPDATE: 1/31/13 2:42 PM ET

Does Hagel have the leadership skills to run the Pentagon?

If Chuck Hagel is confirmed as secretary of defense, he will be the first former enlisted soldier to head the Pentagon.

The New York Times has posted a blog by Don Gomez, a former US Army sergeant and now an officer, on the leadership differences between high-ranking enlisted soldiers and officers.

“There are things that the enlisted learn that set them apart from the officer corps. These are the raw lessons that come from the hard-earned experience of being and doing. The pain and shame of making a legitimate error and having it exposed in front of your peers. Being corrected over and over again for tiny infractions. Leaving your barracks room — your home — and being immediately questioned as to whether you shaved this morning. The general fear of the forever-hovering NCO, a fear that is inculcated during basic training from the ever-present drill sergeant.

“This experience leads to learning the things that officers may understand academically, but not viscerally. The officer knows why a given policy is important, but the enlisted feels it. It is the reason every officer in a command position is paired with a more experienced NCO. Together they form the command team, and good officers tend to take the advice of the good NCOs who surround them. Good officers know that their NCOs know a lot more about what is going on around them because they are always there.”

Read the full blog here.

UPDATE: 1/31/13 2:15 PM ET

Hagel asked about past comments on Al Jazeera interview

"Do you think the state of Israel has committed war crimes?" Sen. Ted Cruz (R) asked, after confirming Hagel's stance on the US not being party to the International Criminal Court.

"No," Hagel said, but said he would need the full context of the 2009 Al Jazeera interview to which Cruz had referred.

Cruz then played another excerpt from the Al Jazeera interview, hinting that Hagel agreed that America was the world's bully.

UPDATE: 1/31/13 2:00 PM ET

Is Hagel the "Maverick" that McCain claimed to be in 2008?

Watching his own party members aggressively question Hagel on his past stances during the Senate Armed Forces Committee confirmation hearing might be puzzling to the casual observer.

However, Reuters noted that Hagel was an early and lonely Republican critic of the Iraq War, a position that may have allied him with another prominent opponent of the war, President Obama.

"He's a staunch Republican, but Chuck and I agree almost on every item of foreign policy," said Obama in August 2008.

Hagel has also not been timid in criticizing his own party, telling the Financial Times in 2011 that he was "disgusted" by the "irresponsible actions" of Republicans during debates over the debt ceiling in 2011.

Reuters noted that former Vice President Dick Cheney told Newsweek, "I believe firmly in Ronald Reagan's 11th Commandment: thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican. But it's very hard sometimes to adhere to that where Chuck Hagel is involved."

A recipient of two Purple Hearts, Hagel has not been appreciated for his bluntness and candor.

The New York Times noted, "At the Republican grass roots in Nebraska and in the upper reaches of his party in Washington, the senator's candor was not universally viewed as refreshing. His timing was held against him even more than his dissent."

"He became an internationalist, someone who's capable of feeling intensely about alliances, multilateral endeavors, the value of global institutions; a fellow traveler of the Council on Foreign Relations, a politician who actually reads Foreign Affairs," said The Times.

UPDATE: 1/31/13 1:35 PM ET

Republican senator says Hagel holds 'extreme view'

Sen. Deb Fischer, a Republican Hagel's home state of Nebraska, continued along the lines of her Republican colleagues, focusing on Hagel's positions on Iran sanctions.

"You continue to hold I believe extreme views far to the left of even this administration," she said. Like many of her Republican colleagues on the committee, she also questioned Hagel's involvement with Global Zero.

Read more about Hagel's connection to Global Zero.

"I can't think of a more provocative statement," said Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, bringing up Hagel's statement on Israel again. Hagel once again said he regretted the terminology.

The hearing confirmation has been a bizarre reversal of roles, with Democrats allowing Hagel to air and clarify his views while his Republican colleagues pressure him on past comments and missteps.

Graham, who had a little trouble with the word Intifada, pressed Hagel on his views in the past on the Palestine Liberation Organization, and his positions on Iran, Israel and national security. He asked Hagel if he sent the "worst possible signal to our enemies and friends at one of the most critical times in world history."

Bloomberg noted Hagel has been "confronting skepticism and outright opposition from members of his own party."

UPDATE: 1/31/13 1:10 PM ET

Vietnam Veterans of America support Hagel

The Vietnam Veterans of American released a statement on Tuesday saying they "fully and unequivocally" support Hagel's nomination as secretary of defense.

John Rowan, the president of the organization, sent a letter to Sens. Levin and McCain of the Senate Armed Services Committee, expressing his support.

We have known Chuck Hagel for more than thirty years. We know him to be a man of the highest character and integrity who will take care of the troops while accomplishing the mission. He has the range and depth of knowledge in foreign affairs as well as defense policy to have sufficient gravitas to be an excellent Secretary of Defense. He is an inspired choice.

Read the full statement here.

UPDATE: 1/31/13 1:05 PM ET

Hagel responds to Iran sanctions questions, again

Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte took up the line of questioning after a short recess, echoing her Republican colleagues McCain and Inhofe in asking Hagel about his voting record opposing Iran sanctions.

"I didn't base my votes on what anybody else thought or did," Hagel said, when asked if he was aware that then Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama supported a bill calling for sanctions.

Sen. James Inhofe started off the Republicans' aggressive line of questioning Hagel on his positions early in the confirmation hearing. Inhofe demonstrated his conservative credentials by cross-examining Hagel on issues like Iran, Israel, and nuclear weapons early on.

Learn more on Inhofe here.

UPDATE: 1/31/13 12:45 PM ET

What is Chuck Hagel's connection to Global Zero?

Hagel's confirmation hearing brought to light his support for Global Zero, a group formed in Paris in 2008 that promotes eliminating nuclear weapons.

Made up of political, civic, and military leaders, the group calls for deep cuts in US and Russian nuclear arsenals.

Republican senators expressed concern at his support of the group, while Hagel stressed that he does not support unilateral disarmament.

Read the full story here.

UPDATE: 1/31/13 12:35 PM ET

Hagel's Israel problem

Sen. Roger Wicker, a Republican, asked for Hagel to clarify his remarks on the Jewish lobby.

Hagel is quoted as saying, "The Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here…. I’m not an Israeli senator. I’m a United States senator. Again, I have always argued against some of the dumb things they do because I don’t think it’s in the interest of Israel. I just don’t think it’s smart for Israel."

Hagel responded during the hearing that he regretted using the term Jewish lobby. "I should have said pro-Israel lobby."

He also said he should not have used the word "dumb."

Earlier in the hearing, Hagel said he has "always said I am a supporter of Israel. In some cases I've said I am a strong supporter of Israel."

He said he never voted against Israel in his 12 years in the Senate.

The Washington Post has a compilation of Hagel's controversial remarks about Israel, with context.

UPDATE: 1/31/13 12:20 PM ET

Democratic senators ask more clarifying questions

Hagel got some of the more softball questions of the hearing from Democratic senators, which might seem surprising at first.

Sen. Clair Macaskill asked Hagel to reiterate his position on sanctions against Iran and whether it was a state sponsor of terrorism. Hagel said he supported sanctions and believed it was a sponsor of terrorism.

He stressed that all options, including military, should remain on the table when it comes to Iran.

Sen. Mark Udall, also a Democrat, asked for more clarifications on Hagel's positions in a more genial tone than his Republican colleagues.

"Let's just say that Udall's questions aren't fiery. He's covering a lot of the same territory prior senators have covered, and Hagel is once again affirming his support for lsrael," The Wall Street Journal noted.

At least six Republicans, including four members of the Armed Services panel, have said they would oppose Hagel's nomination, according to the Associated Press. McCain, who was aggressive in pressing for answers on Hagel's position on the 2007 Iraq surge, threatened not to vote for Hagel.

UPDATE: 1/31/13 12:10 PM ET

Hagel explains vote

Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss asked Hagel to explain his position on Iran, reiterating, "We've never negotiated with a terrorist state." He also questioned why Hagel did not vote to designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization.

Hagel responded that the US has "never, ever designated a part of a legitimate government, a state," according to the Guardian. Hagel explained that if the Revolutionary Guard were designated a terrorist organization, it would give the US authority to use military force without a resolution.

"We were in two wars," Hagel said, so he voted against it.

Hagel said, "Engagement is not appeasement. Engagement is not surrender," while defending his position on America's involvement in the world.

UPDATE: 1/31/13 11:50 AM ET

Transcript of Hagel's prepared opening statement

Hagel clarified his positions on Iran, Israel and nuclear arms in his opening statement.

He said, "As I told the President, I am committed to his positions on all issues of national security, specifically decisions that the Department of Defense is in the process of implementing."

Here is a transcript of his entire statement, via Fox News.

UPDATE: 1/31/13 11:40 AM ET

Hagel faces tough questioning from Republican colleagues

Sen. Inhofe pushed Hagel on Global Zero "an international movement for the elimination of all nuclear weapons," to which Hagel is a signatory. Hagel responded that neither he nor Global Zero supported unilateral disarmament.

Read Hagel's profile on Global Zero.

McCain, a Vietnam veteran like Hagel, said the line of questioning was to measure the "quality of your professional judgment." McCain pressed Hagel on his vocal opposition to former President Bush's surge in Iraq in 2007.

"Do you stand by those comments? Were you correct or incorrect? The question is simple, were you right or wrong?" McCain asked.

"I'm not going to give you a yes or no answer. I think it's far more complicated than that. I'll defer my judgment to history," Hagel answered. "I think our war in Iraq was a fundamentally bad and dangerous decision after Vietnam."

"I think history has already mage a judgment on the surge," McCain responded. "You're on the wrong side of it."

Sen. Jefferson Sessions, a Republican, also followed the line of questioning on Global Zero that Inhofe began. Reuters' Colin McDonald writes:

At a basic level, the Global Zero issue is one side attacking the organization and Hagel's report as advocating total nuclear disarmament, in a dangerous hit to national security, and Hagel and his defenders saying that the argument was about measured reduction of nuclear weapons in bilateral agreements with other nuclear powers.

UPDATE: 1/31/13 10:30 AM ET

Hagel has work cut out for him clarifying his positions 

Hagel got a taste of the opposition he may face during his confirmation hearing when Sen. Jim Inhofe, a Republican, said Hagel's positions were "troubling" on a variety of issues, including Israel, Iran and nuclear weapons.

"Senator Hagel's record is deeply troubling and out of the mainstream. Too often it seems he is willing to subscribe to a worldwide view that is predicated on appeasing our adversaries while shunning our friends," Inhofe said, according to Reuters.

"It is for these reasons that I believe he is the wrong person to lead" the Department of Defense at this time, Inhofe said.

Hagel's formal introductions were given by Sen. Sam Nunn, a Democrat, and Sen. John Warner, a Republican. Warner, another veteran of war, said, "When my generation came home from World War 2, we were welcomed back home with open arms."

Warner noted that the Vietnam veterans, like Hagel and Sens. John McCain and John Kerry, were faced instead with hostility and divisiveness when they returned home. Warner suggested that Kerry, who was confirmed earlier this week for the secretary of state position, and Hagel, had the war time bond of a "band of brothers," which might help them collaborate.

When Hagel began to speak, he said, America "must engage - not retreat - in the world," insisting that he has been consistent on this point.

"No one individual vote, quote or statement defines me, my beliefs, or my record," he said, according to the Associated Press.

"My overall worldview has never changed: that America has and must maintain the strongest military in the world; that we must lead the international community to confront threats and challenges together; and that we must use all tools of American power to protect our citizens and our interests."

"Our men and women in uniform must never doubt that their leader's first priority is them," Hagel said. "We must always take care of our people."

Criticism of Hagel's nomination for secretary of defense has been growing for weeks, and started even before the Republican got the official go-ahead, reported NBC Politics.

Members of his own party will now be able to ask him questions on a range of topics, including Hagel's antagonism to what he referred to as "the Jewish lobby" and his opposition of President George W. Bush's 2007 surge strategy in Iraq.

According to the International Business Times, Hagel has also broken ranks with his party on other security issues, such as Iran and military spending.

USA Today has said he seems "a good bet for confirmation," since Democrats have the majority in the US Senate, and no member of the caucus has spoken against Hagel. He is also supported by at least one Republican, Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi.

UPDATE: 1/31/13 9:30 AM ET

Hagel's confirmation hearing begins

Republican Chuck Hagel, the former Nebraska senator nominated by President Barack Obama to be his next secretary of defense, arrived on Capitol Hill this morning to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee as part of his confirmation hearing.

Sen. Carl Levin, a Democrat, opened the hearing, remarking that if confirmed, Hagel would be the first Vietnam War veteran to serve as defense secretary.



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