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Public Statements

Executive Session

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. McCAIN. Madam President, there seems to be a lot of back and forth and misinformation about where various Senators stand on the issue of the Hagel nomination. I have a statement I will give in a few minutes about why I am opposed to Senator Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense, but I think it is important to make a couple points. One is that the distinguished chairman and I were here back in 1988.

In 1988, on December 16, John Tower was nominated to be Secretary of Defense.

On January 25, 1989, his confirmation hearings began. On February 2, 1989, the committee postponed the confirmation vote after allegations were raised. On February 8, the committee vote was delayed again until February. February 23, he was voted out of the committee. March 10 was the time where the Senate rejected the nomination by 53 to 47.

I was there. I saw. One of the worst things I have ever seen in the history of the Senate, the way they dragged out Senator John Tower--a good and decent man's reputation with allegation after allegation, all of which turned out to be false. So I would like to inform my colleagues, this is not the first time we have had a delay in the confirmation of a Secretary of Defense.

I will be glad to go over what I saw, including allegations that were thrown over the transom day after day, week after week. They destroyed a good and decent man in Senator John Tower. So the allegation that somehow we are dragging this out or delaying it, it is not the first time in history, I will say to my dear friend, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee.

Having said that, there are still questions outstanding. I believe Senators have the right to have those questions answered. The Senator from South Carolina and I, the Senator from New Hampshire had a response from the President today on the question we had, but there are other questions. But I think during the break is sufficient time to get any additional questions answered. I will vote in favor of cloture on the day we get back. I believe my colleagues would also--a number of my colleagues would do the same.

I think that is a sufficient period of time to get answers to outstanding questions. I think Senator Hagel, after that period of time, deserves a cloture vote and an up-or-down vote on his nomination.

I ask if my colleague wants to comment.


Mr. McCAIN. Madam President, I ask unanimous consent that the Senator from Tennessee, who also, in my view, is one of the great protectors of the Senate, preserving its tradition and customs--I would ask if he has a view on this issue. I wish to repeat: I would vote for cloture. The Senator from South Carolina would vote for cloture. I would be interested in the view of the Senator from Tennessee on this whole issue.


Mr. McCAIN. Madam President, I note that the present occupant of the chair is familiar with the rigors of this process as well. So I think it is important to note. Again, I wish to say that it is one thing to support or oppose a nominee, but I do not believe a nominee deserves a dragged-out process. I think the Senator from Tennessee and the Senator from Massachusetts would agree with me; that it might be a disincentive in the future for well-qualified men and women who want to serve, who see a process that is dragged out and allegations made and requirements for disclosure that frankly are not required.

I note the presence of the majority leader on the floor, so I would like to filibuster for an hour or so.

I yield to the majority leader.


Mr. McCAIN. Madam President, reserving the right to object. I will not object, I will just respond to my friend. He is my dear friend. I did not note that sense of urgency for 3 months when John Tower's nomination was held in limbo by the then-majority Democrats. The Secretary of Defense post was vacant at that time as well. So this is not the first time in history a Secretary of Defense position has been vacant.
Again, I hope we can get this resolved, move forward. I think the Senator from Michigan, my friend, understands we can get this issue resolved on the day we return from the recess. Certainly, there are, I believe, sufficient votes to invoke cloture at that time.


Mr. McCAIN. Madam President, I always enjoy some exchanges with my friend, the chairman. But the fact is, as the chairman knows, that was delayed and delayed and delayed. A new allegation came in, it was delayed. A new allegation came in, it was delayed. All those allegations turned out to be false. I will not rewrite history anymore, except to say it was one of the more shameful chapters, in my view, in the history of the Senate.

Again, I thank him. I am confident that within 1 week or so we will probably have this vote completed. I do not object to the unanimous consent request.


Mr. McCAIN. For all the years that I have known Senator Hagel, I have known him to be an honorable man and a patriot in this Chamber and elsewhere--overseas, in the field of battle. Senator Hagel has served this country faithfully and with distinction.

We have our differences. Senator Hagel was and remains my friend. There was a time when Senator Hagel and I saw the world and America's role in it in much the same way.

When the Balkans were torn apart with mass atrocities and genocide, Senator Hagel and I stood together with Senators Bob Dole and Joe Lieberman to lend bipartisan support to President Clinton in taking more forceful action to end the slaughter.

In May 1999, Senator Hagel said on this very floor why the United States should intervene militarily in Kosovo:

But we also understand there are things worth going to war for, there are things worth dying for. ..... When people are being slaughtered at a rather considerable rate, and genocide is occurring, and ethnic cleansing is occurring, and people are being driven from their homes.

On and on.

What do we do now? The geopolitical consequences, the humanitarian consequences involved in this are great.

He went on to say:

History has surely taught us that when you defer the tough decisions, when you let the butchers continue and the tyrants and dictators continue, it gets worse. And it has gotten worse with Milosevic. For 10 years we've dealt with him. Four wars he's started.

Et cetera.

I agreed with his statement at the time, and I still do. I think it applies with greater or equal force to Syria today. I am not sure that Senator Hagel believes that anymore.

When America was attacked on September 11, 2001, Senator Hagel and I urged a strong American response to vanquish the enemies who attacked us, beginning in Afghanistan. Two years later, President Bush decided the United States may have to use force against Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and then Senator Hagel and I voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq.

Senator Hagel and I were often together in our criticism of the Bush administration's conduct of the war in Iraq. We both were disturbed by the apparent arrogance of then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his abject failure to respond to the clear fact that we were losing the war in Iraq on the ground.

In August 2003 I urged President Bush to send more troops. The Senator from South Carolina and I called for the resignation of the Secretary of Defense, and we wanted to change our strategy, to replace military and civilian leaders who were failing in their responsibilities. Senator Hagel, on the other hand, believed we should cut our losses and withdraw from Iraq.

Since that time, Senator Hagel has taken policy positions that I believe call into question the quality of his professional judgment on issues critical to national defense. I am also concerned that Senator Hagel is ill-suited to lead the 2.5 million uniformed members of the Armed Services and to ensure the sound management of an agency that has an annual budget equal to the 17th largest economy in the world.

Of all the responsibilities of government, none is more fundamental than providing for the Nation's defense. We must have the most qualified and able person for the position, and having carefully reviewed Senator Hagel's long public record, I find his nomination wanting.

Senator Hagel's appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee failed to allay my concerns about his nomination. During the hearing he repeatedly refused to give an assessment of his previous statements on issues such as the troop surge in Iraq, the identification and engagement of terrorist organizations, and his past rhetoric about our allies. In response to these questions, he either assigned history the task of judging the merit of his past statements and positions or simply said:

If I had an opportunity to edit that, like many things I've said, I would--I would like to go back and change the words and the meaning.

History isn't likely to affirm Senator Hagel's declaration that the decision to increase forces in order to wage a counterinsurgency in Iraq, a decision that helped prevent our losing that war, he said was the most dangerous foreign policy blunder since Vietnam.

It is quite obvious now that statement was histrionic, woefully uninformed, and absurd. But I didn't raise it at Senator Hagel's hearing for the satisfaction of an ``I told you so'' moment, but to determine if Senator Hagel recognizes he was in error and, more importantly, if that recognition informs his judgment today.

I wanted to know if he had learned from his mistakes. Unfortunately, I am not confident that he has. After 2 weeks of reviewing his record, my concerns about whether Senator Hagel is ready to serve as Secretary of Defense have not diminished.

Nothing in Senator Hagel's background indicates he would effectively manage the Department of Defense. In today's unprecedented environment of fiscal uncertainty, ensuring that defense investment decisions affecting an agency as massive and unwieldy as the Department of Defense do not adversely impact our military readiness is enormously challenging. It requires that the Secretary have, as Secretary Gates and Secretary Panetta had, a proven track record of successfully managing large and complex organizations. Senator Hagel has no experience.

There are those of us who seek to cut waste, fraud, and abuse from the Department of Defense. Senator Hagel seeks something else entirely--to cut military capabilities that serve as tools to ensure our continued engagement throughout the world in support of America's interests and those of our allies.

In the eyes of the President, at least, Senator Hagel, however, apparently is the right man to oversee the

continuing drawdown of the Armed Services. Over the past 4 years, the administration has pursued a program of defense reductions that exceed those expected of a normal post-war drawdown, cuts that have begun to directly undermine U.S. global military power. Last week, Secretary Panetta said people would stand by and deliberately hurt this country in terms of our national defense by letting sequestration take place.

My doubts about Senator Hagel's suitability extend beyond his prospective management of defense budgetary resources. The North Koreans recently tested another nuclear weapon. Iraq is unraveling. The Iranians just rejected Vice President Biden's proposal at the Munich Security Conference for one-on-one talks concerning nuclear weapons. Libya, Mali, Tunisia, and Egypt are in various states of unrest, for which we have no strategy. We are in the most unsettled period since the end of the Cold War, and I have serious concerns as to the quality of Senator Hagel's professional judgment and the acuity of his views on critical areas of national security, including security in East Asia and the Middle East.
His record on Iraq was particularly troubling. As I alluded to a moment ago, in 2002 Senator Hagel voted to authorize the use of force against Iraq. By 2006, his support for the war had diminished.

After Republican losses in the 2006 midterm elections, the Senator wrote an opinion piece for the Washington Post under the title ``Leaving Iraq, Honorably,'' foreshadowing his opposition to the surge and advocating ``a phased troop withdrawal from Iraq.'' When President Bush announced his decision to surge troops in 2007, Senator Hagel actively campaigned against it.

He voted in February 2007 in favor of a bill expressing opposition to the surge and later in favor of measures to set a date certain for withdrawal of troops from Iraq, an equally bad policy. Senator Hagel wrote in his 2008 memoir, ``America: Our Next Chapter'' that ``history ..... will show'' that his legislative efforts to oppose the surge correctly framed the political matters at issue at the time.

Carl Levin, on the other hand, said in 2009:

In considering whether or not to surge troops in Iraq ..... I think that history will show that President Bush reached the right decision.

Senator Hagel advocated the complete withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq by 2007 rather than negotiating an agreement for an enduring presence of U.S. forces. The President ultimately did exactly what Senator Hagel recommended, reportedly against the advice of military leaders. In response to written questions on this matter, Senator Hagel again stated that the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops in Iraq was the right call and asserted that Iraq is in a better place today because of it. That is another Orwellian statement.

In fact, since the withdrawal of our forces in 2011, the fragile political accommodation made possible by the surge of 2007 has unraveled over the past year. Al-Qaida in Iraq is remobilizing. Iranian-backed Shiite militias are gaining strength. Meanwhile the country is on the brink of civil war as protests against the Maliki government draw thousands, Iranian aircraft are flying over Iraq with weapons for Syria, and there are many other examples. Nevertheless, Senator Hagel is equally quick to advocate full withdrawal from Afghanistan despite conditions on the ground or the advice of military commanders.

Senator Hagel's views on Iran are also profoundly troubling. Consider, for instance, his recent set of incorrect and confused responses to basic questions about President Obama's Iran policy during his confirmation hearing last month, which one senior White House official rightfully described as ``somewhere between baffling and incomprehensible.''

I am more deeply concerned by Senator Hagel's overall record on this issue.


Mr. McCAIN. Finally, Senator Hagel's opposition to the use of sanctions, his apparent confusion about administration policies and its implications, and his apparent incomprehension of the threat a nuclear-armed Iran poses to international stability is alarming and would cause other nations to doubt the credibility of the President's commitments.

Senator Hagel is an honorable man who has sacrificed much and bravely for our Nation. About his character and love of country, there can be no doubt or debate. However, his positions on the principal national security issues facing our country--the Iranian nuclear program, the resurgent Islamist terrorist threat in North Africa and the Middle East, and, more broadly, whether we should maintain our ability to project strength in defense of our interests and allies'--indicate to me a disqualifying lack of professional judgment. Also, Senator Hagel's complete lack of experience in running an enterprise of such size and complexity casts further doubt.

Therefore, despite my esteem for Senator Hagel, on the basis of his record, I will not support his confirmation. I say this with regret, but he is the wrong person at the worst time for the job this day. We can and must do better.

I thank my colleagues.

I yield the floor.


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