Former Nebraska Republican Senator Chuck Hagel – a contender to replace Defense Secretary Leo Panetta in the second-term Obama cabinet – has apologized categorically for his previous comments about gays in the diplomatic service.
Hagel had questioned the suitability of James Hormel, later named by President Clinton as Ambassador to Luxembourg, as an American envoy, describing Hormel as “aggressively gay.” Hagel was also a supporter of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.
LGBT groups demanded that Hagel renounce his previous remarks. Hagel did just that, announcing in a statement that his 1998 comments “do not reflect my views or the totality of my public record, and I apologize.” Hagel further affirmed his support for gays and lesbians serving openly in the military and for LGBT “military families.”
It would seem that Hagel’s views have indeed evolved over time, much like those of the Obama administration that he seeks to serve. Steve Clemons, an openly gay editor at The Atlanic, wrote about his personal experiences with Hagel, calling the former senator a “staunch supporter” of gay rights: “At some point, Hagel may have been a supporter of don’t ask, don’t tell, but as of a couple of years ago he was not.”
While he has likely reassured liberals who feared backtracking on LGBT issues under his tenure, Hagel would still face intense scrutiny from senators based on other past comments, including a reference to the influence of the “Jewish lobby” that supports Israel. Hagel has also aroused the ire of his former GOP colleagues by backing Democratic senatorial candidates Joe Sestak and Bob Kerrey.
Hagel, 66, served two terms in the Senate before retiring in 2009. Since then he has been a professor at Georgetown University and co-chair of President Obama’s Intelligence Advisory Board.