UPDATED: John Kerry was confirmed as Secretary of State on Jan. 29 in a nearly unanimous vote. He succeeds Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is serving her final week in the post.
Barack Obama’s selection of Chuck Hagel for defense secretary prompted some foot stomping in Republican and Democratic circles, but opposition has softened, at least among Democrats, with a series of promises and apologies from the nominee.
Meanwhile, the president has had to deflect concern that the cabinet for his second term may be less diverse than his first-term cabinet. Responding to critics and questions, Obama said at a news conference in January, “I would just suggest that everybody kind of wait until they’ve seen all my appointments, who’s in the White House staff and who’s in my Cabinet before they rush to judgment.”
He pointed to his past appointments and said, “I think people should expect that that record will be built upon during the next four years.”
The president has nominated Hagel, whose confirmation hearing is Jan. 31, to succeed Leon Panetta at the Pentagon and Jack Lew to succeed Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner. John Kerry was confirmed on Jan. 29 to succeed Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state.
Announcing the Kerry nomination late in 2012, the president said, “Over these many years, John has earned the respect and confidence of leaders around the world. He is not going to need a lot of on-the-job training. He has earned the respect and trust of his Senate colleagues, Democrats and Republicans. I think it’s fair to say that few individuals know as many presidents and prime ministers, or grasp our foreign policies as firmly as John Kerry. And this makes him a perfect choice to guide American diplomacy in the years ahead.”
Kerry seems a popular choice among his colleagues to replace the widely popular Clinton.
He also has a lot of support outside the Capitol.
At the Human Rights Campaign, president Chad Griffin said, “Sen. Kerry has been a trailblazer in the fight for LGBT equality, both domestically and internationally. His leadership in repealing the HIV travel ban, as well as his steadfast support for employment non-discrimination protections and addressing the needs of LGBT homeless youth demonstrate his dedication to equality and to the rights of LGBT people worldwide.
“The State Department’s unwavering commitment to LGBT people around the world under the leadership of Secretary Clinton has been exemplary. We look forward to even more progress, including growth of the Global Equality Fund and continued support for the human rights of LGBT people, as Sen. Kerry takes the helm.”
Kerry has consistently scored 100 percent with HRC, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights group. He also ran for president in 2004 with substantial support from the LGBT community. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force called the John Kerry-John Edwards ticket the “most gay-supportive in American history.”
As for Hagel, opposition remains among conservative senators concerned about his views on Israel and Iran.
But the nomination has gained support among Democrats, including Charles Schumer of New York and Barbara Boxer of California, the Senate’s most prominent Jewish members.
Hagel once referred to Israel supporters in the United States as the “Jewish lobby.”
Schumer said he met with the nominee for 90 minutes and believes Hagel understands the sensitivity of “such saying it,” according to The AP.
“I know some will question whether Sen. Hagel’s assurances are merely attempts to quiet critics as he seeks confirmation to this critical post. But I don’t think so,” Schumer said. “Sen. Hagel realizes the situation in the Middle East has changed, with Israel in a dramatically more endangered position than it was even five years ago. His views are genuine, and reflect this new reality.”
And concerns about Hagel’s anti-gay record as a senator seem to have been alleviated, except among the leadership at Log Cabin Republicans, a GOP gay group.
Hagel, as a senator from Nebraska in the 1990s, earned a zero rating from HRC. And when Bill Clinton nominated philanthropist James Hormel as the nation’s first openly gay ambassador, Hagel opposed the candidate because he was “openly, aggressively gay.” Eventually Hormel served as ambassador to Luxembourg, taking the oath in June 1999 after Clinton made a recess appointment.
Hagel recently apologized for his remark: “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.”
Some LGBT civil rights advocates welcomed the apology and indicated they wouldn’t oppose the nomination.
But with questions remaining and a public hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee coming soon, Hagel issued another statement in mid-January, saying he also supported the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” as well as the extension of equal benefits to gay servicemembers and their families.
The Vietnam veteran, in a letter to Boxer, said, “I know firsthand the profound sacrifice our service members and their families make, and if confirmed as Secretary of Defense, I will do everything possible to the extent permissible under current law to provide equal benefits to the families of all our service members.”
LCR, however, still opposes Hagel. In a full-page ad in The New York Times paid for by unnamed donors, LCR said, “Chuck Hagel: Bad on Gay Rights. Bad on Iran. Bad on Israel. Tell President Obama that Chuck Hagel is wrong for Defense Secretary.”