U.S. News: Hagel Nomination Is Filibustered

For the first time in history the Secretary of Defense nominee is filibustered.

chuck hagel

Chuck Hagel

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On January 7, 2013, President Barack Obama nominated Charles Timothy "Chuck" Hagel to replace Leon Panetta as Secretary of Defense. With experience in the military, business and politics, Hagel was seen by many as a qualified choice. He received two Purple Hearts for his work as an infantry squad leader during the Vietnam War. After the war, Hagel co-founded Vanguard Cellular, which became the largest independent non-wireline cellular carrier during the 1990s. He served as CEO of American Information Systems Inc., which computerized voting machines, and as president of the McCarthy Group, an investment banking firm. In 1996, he ran for the United States Senate as a member of the Republican Party and won. Hagel represented Nebraska in the U.S. Senate until he retired in 2008.

On February 12, 2013, the Senate Armed Services Committee approved Obama's nomination of Hagel with a 14-11 vote. However, two days later, the Republicans stalled the process, saying they needed more time to review his nomination. It was the first time in U.S. history that a Secretary of Defense nominee was filibustered.

Hagel Under Fire

As soon as Hagel received the nomination, it was assumed that some Republicans would vote against him for various reasons. One reason was Hagel's previous policy positions, which had often conflicted with many Republicans. While in the Senate, Hagel supported defense cuts, opposed preemptive action against Iran and supported talks with Hamas and Hezbollah. Hagel's stance on the latter issue increased a belief by some that his views verged on being anti-Semitic. In a 2006 interview with Aaron David Miller, Hagel stated that the "Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people" and "I'm not an Israeli senator. I'm a United States senator." Hagel clarified later that he was referring to the Israel lobby in those remarks.

In 1999, Hagel was criticized as the only senator not to sign a letter to Boris Yeltsin, then president of Russia. The letter threatened to cut aid if Yeltsin did not act against the anti-Semitism spreading in Russia. But Hagel refused to sign any letters to foreign heads of state. He did write to Bill Clinton at the time on the issue. In the letter, Hagel wrote, "Anti-Semitism or any form of religious persecution should never be tolerated."

Hagel's nomination also received criticism from LGBT organizations due to a comment he'd made in the past. In 1998, The Human Rights Campaign demanded that Hagel apologize for calling James Hormel, U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg, "openly, aggressively gay." Hagel had opposed President Clinton's nomination of Hormel as ambassador. In 2013, the Log Cabin Republicans, a LGBT organization that works within the Republican Party, ran full-page newspaper ads opposing Hagel's nomination for Secretary of Defense.


Hagel did receive support for the nomination as well. Colin Powell and Robert Gates both endorsed Hagel's nomination. Nine former United States Ambassadors, five of which were ambassadors to Israel, all signed a letter of support. Several retired top military officers also signed a letter supporting the nomination. Rabbi Aryeh Azriel of Temple Israel in Omaha, Nebraska, wrote in a letter for CNN that Hagel's "record shows strong support for Israel. Recent efforts to smear Chuck ultimately hurts the long-term security of the state of Israel."

Still, despite the support, and the Senate Armed Services Committee's 14-11 vote, Republicans refused to end the debate on Hagel's nomination. The Republican used reasons such as wanting more information about the 2012 Benghazi attack from the Obama Administration to stall his nomination. Finally, on February 26, 2013, the Senate voted to end the filibuster and confirmed Hagel by a vote of 58-41. It was the first time any cabinet nomination had been filibustered successfully.

by Jennie Wood


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