US Defense Secretary Nominee and former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel wins key backing of veteran Jewish senators amid allegations that he is not pro-Israeli enough.
US President Barack Obama’s Pentagon nominee Chuck Hagel has won key congressional support for his confirmation with two top Jewish Senators backing him amid accusations by pro-Israel lawmakers that he is not pro-Israeli enough.
The former Republican Senator from Nebraska has picked up two key supporters in the Senate as veteran Democratic Senators Charles Schumer of New York and Barbara Boxer of California, “two of the most influential Jewish Democrats,” issued testimonials on Tuesday to Hagel’s credentials to head the nation’s Defense Department, The Washington Post
reported on Wednesday.
“Senator Hagel could not have been more forthcoming and sincere,” Schumer said Tuesday in a statement that covered every possible controversy of Hagel’s nomination. “Based on several key assurances provided by Senator Hagel, I am currently prepared to vote for his confirmation. I encourage my Senate colleagues who have shared my previous concerns to also support him.”
“I needed comprehensive answers,” Boxer told reporters Tuesday in a conference call, explaining that she “demanded” that Hagel follow up their phone discussion with a letter “documenting his answers on Israel and Iran as well as issues related to gay rights and female soldiers’ access to reproductive services.”
In his talks with Boxer and Schumer, the daily notes, Hagel expressed “deep regret” for remarks he made year ago censuring the powerful pro-Israeli lobby group in Washington, American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and referring to it as the “Jewish lobby.”
“He was very devastated by it, looking back,” Boxer said of Hagel as quoted in the report.
Furthermore, Schumer said of his conversation with the former Republican lawmaker, “Senator 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.”
Schumer, according to the report, informed Obama of his decision on Monday following the meeting with Hagel, and calling the former senator Tuesday morning “to formalize his support,” a Senate aide familiar with the discussion said.
Meanwhile, the Post reported on Thursday that the Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for Hagel on January 31.
The development comes as pro-Israeli conservative activists have dismissed Hagel’s reported statements to Schumer and Boxer as just a “confirmation conversion,” with senior Republican senators vowing tough questioning during his confirmation hearings.
“No closed-door White House meeting with a single Senator or a letter can erase a problematic 12-year Senate record and many troubling public statements from Senator Hagel,” senior Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn said in a statement quoted in the report. “Retractions of long-held positions raise serious questions about where Senator Hagel stands on critical issues of national defense.”