Pres. Obama nominated former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense Monday. AP photo

Some LGBT Groups, Politicians Soften On Hagel

By Lisa Keen

Updated on Tuesday, Jan.8, 2013

U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin said Monday that she wants to see whether Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel's apology for anti-gay remarks 14 years ago is "sincere and sufficient." But former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank said his opinion of Hagel has gone from opposition to reconsideration.

Baldwin made her remarks just minutes after President Obama officially nominated the former Republican Senator from Nebraska to the top Pentagon post. During an interview with MSNBC, Baldwin said she did not know Hagel, but that she plans to ask him "some tough questions."

Baldwin does not sit on the Senate Armed Services Committee but, as a member of the U.S. Senate, will vote on Hagel's confirmation.

She told MSNBC she plans to give Hagel's nomination a "thorough review" and will "be fair."

"But I do want to speak with him particularly about his comments 14 years ago to ... see if his apology is sincere and sufficient," said Baldwin. "I want to see how he's evolved on this issue in last 14 years" and how he will contribute to the successful implementation of the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell.

Frank told the Boston Globe, in an interview published Monday, that while he was hoping President Obama would not nominate Hagel to the position, "With the attack coming out of the right, I hope he gets confirmed." Frank, who is both gay and Jewish, said last month that he thinks Hagel would be "very good" with respect to Israel and the Defense budget but that his anti-gay comments in the past were a "disqualification from being appointed."

"Then-Senator Hagel's aggressively bigoted opposition to President Clinton's naming the first openly gay Ambassador in U.S. history was not, as (former) Senator Hagel now claims, an aberration," said Frank, in the statement released last week. "He voted consistently against fairness for LGBT people and there does not seem to be any evidence prior to his effort to become Secretary of Defense, of any apology or retraction of his attack on James Hormel. And to those of us who admire and respect Mr. Hormel, Senator Hagel's description of him as aggressive can only mean that the senator strongly objected to Hormel's reasoned, civil advocacy for LGBT people."

A number of conservative Senators, including Jon Cornyn (R-Texas) and Dan Coats (R-Ind.) are opposing Hagel's nomination. Coats told Fox News that Hagel "has moved from a conservative Republican coming out of Nebraska to someone that looks like they are out of the most leftist state in the country." Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) predicted "very little Republican support for his nomination." Neither pegged their opposition to Hagel's apology for anti-gay remarks, but there was widespread media attention last week when Hagel issued a statement apologizing for his remarks against the nomination of James Hormel to become ambassador to Luxemburg under President Bill Clinton. At the time of those remarks, in 1998, Hagel characterized Hormel's openness about his sexual orientation as an "aggressive" act that could inhibit his ability to represent the United States in a foreign post.

"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," said Hagel in his statement.

The Human Rights Campaign initially criticized the choice of Hagel but backed off after the apology.

HRC President Chad Griffin issued a statement last month when Hagel's name was floated as a likely nominee, saying Hagel's past comments on gays and his Congressional voting on gay-related issues "unacceptable." But after Hagel issued his apology for his 1996 hostile remarks over openly gay ambassadorial nominee James Hormel, HRC softened its opposition.

"Senator Hagel's apology and his statement of support for LGBT equality is appreciated and shows just how far as a country we have come when a conservative former Senator from Nebraska can have a change of heart on LGBT issues," said Griffin, in a statement issued Monday. "Our community continues to add allies to our ranks and we're proud that Senator Hagel is one of them.

"The next Defense Secretary should get off to a fast start and ensure LGBT military families have access to every possible benefit under the law," said Griffin. "Every day these families continue to face unfair treatment and the Secretary can take meaningful action to remedy this discrimination."

This week, HRC added, "We look forward to Senator Hagel's testimony on how he intends to ensure equal benefits for gay and lesbian service members and their families."

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force initially expressed "grave concerns" about Hagel and this week said it continues to have "concern."

"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," said NGLTF Executive Director Rea Carey. "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."

Log Cabin Republicans is bluntly opposed and says he's "not the right nominee."

The national LGBT Republican group ran a full-page ad in the Washington Post Monday, saying Hagel's apology for past anti-gay remarks is "too little, too late." The ad highlights his previous opposition to repealing the military ban on gay servicemembers and his opposition to allowing equal marriage rights for gay couples.

"Until his name surfaced as a potential nominee for Secretary of Defense, he has stood firmly and aggressively against not only gay marriage, but also against gay people in general," said Gregory Angelo, who took over as interim executive director of Log Cabin less than two weeks ago. "Log Cabin Republicans helped lead the charge to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell and is extremely invested in seeing that we don't lose any ground due to a lack of sincere commitment to gay people and their families on the part of the incoming Defense Secretary."

In a phone interview Monday afternoon, Angelo said he thinks people should "pause and question" the timing of Hagel's "so-called apology."

"I'm not about to hypothesize what was in his head, but the timing of the apology does seem rather suspect -that his evolution (on gay issues) came days after his name floated" as a nominee, said Angelo.

"Log Cabin Republicans spent a lot of time and money on repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell -a bipartisan effort," said Angelo. "Now is not the time to roll the dice on a nominee who may or may not smoothly implement" that repeal. "He's not the right nominee."

Zeke Stokes, spokesman for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), said his organization never opposed Hagel's nomination and believes the apology was worth consideration.

"Senator Hagel pretty quickly addressed those remarks and apologized for what he said 14 years ago, so we certainly want to give him the same space we would give anyone to evolve over 14 years on this issue," said Stokes. "He's indicated he has [evolved] and, just as we would with anyone, we are communicating to him and to the White House things we believe need to happen."

Specifically, said Stokes, SLDN wants to hear from the nominee whether he will "take a serious look at the inequities" for gay servicemembers serving today "and make an immediate commitment to remedy those inequities that he can [through...] own authority."

In a press release January 4, SLDN Executive Director Allyson Robinson said Hagel "clearly has the military credentials and experience" for the Secretary's job but that it is "incumbent upon him during the nomination and confirmation process to lay out demonstrable actions he will take" to support his words. The press release said SLDN wants the nominee, if confirmed, to add "sexual orientation" to the language of military's non-discrimination policies and extend "all benefits" possible to married same-sex couples, while DOMA is still in force.

The Human Rights Campaign's scoring of Hagel's voting record while the Republican represented Nebraska in the U.S. Senate earned him the lowest grade possible on LGBT-related issues-- zero in two of his last three congressional sessions, and a 20 out of 100 in the last session he served. Hagel opposed an effort to ban same-sex marriage nationally through an amendment to the federal constitution.

Neither the president nor Hagel referred to any opposition to the Hagel nomination during a White House press conference Monday afternoon.

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