Omaha World-Herald - Sen. Hagel Doubts Palin's Ready
Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska is the nation's most prominent Republican officeholder to publicly question whether Sarah Palin has the experience to serve as president.
"She doesn't have any foreign policy credentials," Hagel said Wednesday in an interview. "You get a passport for the first time in your life last year? I mean, I don't know what you can say. You can't say anything."
Palin was elected governor of Alaska in 2006 and before that was the mayor of a small town.
Democrats have raised questions about Palin since Sen. John McCain picked her as his vice presidential running mate. Most national Republican officeholders have rallied to Palin's candidacy.
Palin has cited the proximity of Alaska to Russia as evidence of her international experience.
Hagel scoffed at that notion.
"I think they ought to be just honest about it and stop the nonsense about, 'I look out my window and I see Russia and so therefore I know something about Russia,'" he said. "That kind of thing is insulting to the American people."
Hagel said today in a conference call he had received no reaction from fellow Republicans on his Palin comments.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said he hoped Hagel would trust McCain's judgment, considering he supported the Arizona senator for president in 2000.
Grassley said Palin has more executive experience than the men in the race. He said he wasn't surprised, however, that Hagel would depart from the party line.
A senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Hagel has been an outspoken critic of the Bush administration's handling of the Iraq war and had considered making his own run for president. He skipped the Republican National Convention in favor of a trip to Central and South America.
Hagel, who says he has no plans to endorse either presidential candidate, traveled with Democratic nominee Barack Obama to the Middle East in July.
In criticizing Palin, Hagel broke with other Nebraska Republicans, including Gov. Dave Heineman, who have praised the selection.
Tom Kise, a McCain campaign spokesman, responded to Hagel's comments by questioning Obama's experience.
Kise pointed to statements that Obama's running mate, Sen. Joseph Biden, made during the Democrats' primary fight. At that time, Biden was seeking the nomination and questioned whether Obama was prepared to be president.
"It's much more alarming that Barack Obama's own vice presidential nominee doesn't think he has the experience or the judgment for the job," Kise said.
Palin herself addressed the question of her foreign policy experience in a recent interview with ABC News.
"We've got to remember what the desire is in this nation at this time," she said. "It is for no more politics as usual, and somebody's big, fat résumé, maybe, that shows decades and decades in that Washington establishment where, yes, they've had opportunities to meet heads of state."
"I'm ready," Palin said. "I have the confidence in that readiness and knowing that you can't blink."
Hagel offered a couple of caveats on his assessment of Palin: Experience is not the only qualification for elected officials judgment and character are indispensable.
Washington experience isn't the only kind of experience, Hagel said, and he noted that many White House occupants have been governors with no time inside the Beltway.
"But I do think in a world that is so complicated, so interconnected and so combustible, you really got to have some people in charge that have some sense of the bigger scope of the world," Hagel said. "I think that's just a requirement."
So is Palin qualified to be president?
"I think it's a stretch to, in any way, to say that she's got the experience to be president of the United States," Hagel said.
Hagel said voters ultimately will decide between McCain and Obama, and he hopes that the debates will refocus both campaigns on the important issues of the day, including the economy, energy policy and international relations.
One recent squabble between the campaigns revolved around whether Obama was being sexist toward Palin when he used a turn of phrase about putting lipstick on a pig.
That kind of back-and-forth is not what the American people want or need, Hagel said.
"It's terrible," he said. "It debases the system."