U.S. Senator Susan Collins, a senior member of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, today met with Senator Chuck Hagel, who has been nominated to become Secretary of Defense.
Following their 90-minute meeting in Senator Collins' Washington, D.C. office, she
released this statement:
"I have known Chuck Hagel for many years. We were sworn in as Senators on the same day and we traveled to Iraq together in 2003 as part of the first congressional delegation trip there after the war began. I know he cares deeply about our nation's military, and I respect his service to our country.
"We spoke about a wide range of issues including the defense budget, the war in Afghanistan, the Iranian threat, Israel's security, Navy shipbuilding, and personnel issues that affect all of those serving in uniform. Our meeting today was helpful in addressing some of my concerns about his past statements, positions, and votes.
"I raised several personnel issues with Senator Hagel including sexual assault in the military and my serious concerns with the record number of suicides in the military and the link to the overprescribing of drugs without adequate follow-up care. As the coauthor of the law that repealed the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that barred openly gay people from serving in the military, I was satisfied that Senator Hagel says he supports and is committed to implementing every aspect of this law and reviewing opportunities to extend benefits to gay service members and their families in a manner consistent with current law.
"We also discussed the specter of sequestration, which would lead to irresponsible cuts to the military that would cripple our readiness and capability to project power on land, air, and sea. Senator Hagel reiterated Secretary Panetta's position that such meat-axe cuts would be disastrous and catastrophic to our national security and economy.
"We had an extensive discussion about Iran, Israel's security, and terrorist organizations such as Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. I also asked him about his statements and votes opposing unilateral sanctions against Iran. We do not share the same views on many of these matters or the critical role Congress must play regarding these issues; however, we did have an open and frank discussion, and I have requested additional information which he has agreed to supply.
"I appreciate the time that Senator Hagel spent addressing my many concerns. I will carefully follow the upcoming confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, and, as always, I will reserve judgment until that hearing has concluded."