President Barack Obama formally nominated former U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel for secretary of defense, saying Hagel is "the leader that our troops deserve."
Obama made the announcement in the White House East Room on Jan. 7 even as critics questioned the pick over issues including Hagel's views on Israel and Iran and his old record on LGBT issues.
Facing a potentially tough fight to get Hagel confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Obama praised the former Nebraska senator's independence and bipartisan approach, and said that Hagel, a Vietnam veteran, understands war is not an abstraction.
The president said, "Chuck Hagel is the leader that our troops deserve. He is an American patriot. He enlisted in the Army and volunteered for Vietnam. As a young private, and then a sergeant, he served with honor, alongside his own brother. When Chuck was hit by shrapnel, his brother saved him. When his brother was injured by a mine, Chuck risked his life to pull him to safety. To this day, Chuck bears the scars – and the shrapnel – from the battles he fought in our name."
When it seemed likely he would be the nominee and needed to improve his record, Hagel, a moderate Republican, issued an apology for a 1998 objection to the nomination of James Hormel, who became the nation's first openly gay ambassador.
Opposing the Hormel nomination made by Bill Clinton, Hagel said Hormel was “openly, aggressively gay.”
On Dec. 21, Hagel issued an apology: “My comments 14 years ago in 1998 were insensitive. They do not reflect my views or the totality of my public record, and I apologize to Ambassador Hormel and any LGBT Americans who may question my commitment to their civil rights. I am fully supportive of ‘open service’ and committed to LGBT military families.”
Hagel, as a senator, also received the lowest possible scores from the Human Rights Campaign, the national's largest LGBT civil rights group.
Responding to the nomination on Jan. 7, Army veteran and OutServe-SLDN executive director Allyson Robinson said, “Sen. Hagel is an exceptionally qualified nominee for secretary of defense and we believe, 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."
However, Rhea Carey at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force said, "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. Cabinet choices set the tone for an administration and it is critical that those members support fairness, women’s health and the belief in a level playing field for all. Though Chuck 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. We recognize that people do evolve on these issues and we hold out hope that, if confirmed, Hagel will meet the bar set by other cabinet secretaries and the administration when it comes to ensuring fairness for all LGBT military families and for women in the military."