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Executive Session - Opposition to the Nomination of Charles Timothy Hagel to be Secretary of Defense

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. WICKER. Mr. President, I too rise in opposition to the nomination of Chuck Hagel to lead the Department of Defense. Mr. Hagel is probably going to get his vote, but let me say this to my friend from Delaware. If a Republican President in the future brings a nomination for Defense Secretary to this Senate and he does not get as many as 60 votes, I will ask that Republican President to withdraw that nomination, and I wish this President would do the same. This could have been an easy matter. The selection of the Defense Secretary for President Obama's second term could have been a unifying moment. There were a host of qualified, able candidates, both Republican and Democrat, who could have sailed through the process. The President knew controversy was ahead and decided to name Senator Hagel anyway.

There were signals from the right and from the left that Senator Hagel would be a divisive and distracting choice. The Washington Post editorial board gave the President good advice on December 18 by saying: ``Chuck Hagel is not the right choice for defense secretary.''

The differences surrounding Senator Hagel's nomination during the last few weeks stand in stark contrast to the unanimous support for outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. Mr. Hagel's nomination is markedly different from the overwhelming confirmation of Senator John Kerry for Secretary of State.

With so much at stake in the coming days, this should be a time for consensus and cooperation. A nominee who could draw unequivocal support would have served our defense priorities better--and those of our allies.

This confirmation fight occurs against the backdrop of severe across-the-board cuts to America's defense programs that are set to take effect this week unless current policy is changed. The Joint Chiefs of Staff reiterated this disastrous reality at a hearing on February 12. The generals and admirals who testified are some of the most respected in the Pentagon. They are some of the most respected in the world. They made it clear that these cuts, at nearly one-half trillion dollars, threaten America's military readiness and national security. Based on their expertise, we are obliged to believe them.

By contrast, Senator Hagel has called the defense budget ``bloated.'' He did not simply say there is some fat we can trim or that there is room for savings, as we all believe. No, he said it was bloated.

Which is it? Are the Joint Chiefs of Staff correct or is Chuck Hagel correct? The testimony from Defense officials is clearly at odds with Mr. Hagel's shortsighted assessment.

Would Senator Hagel defend a robust defense budget in the face of indiscriminate cuts that could weaken our national security or does he believe sequestration is the answer to what he calls a bloated defense budget?

The statement that our national security budget is bloated is only one of many outlandish pronouncements Senator Hagel has used to grab attention rather than give an accurate evaluation of the situation at hand.

Senator Hagel has in fact made a career out of speaking against the bipartisan mainstream and taking positions on the fringe of public opinion. Here are a few other examples: Senator Hagel has accused Israel of ``playing games'' and committing ``sickening slaughter'' when it was defending itself from Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon. He has said that Israel should not keep the Palestinians ``caged up like animals.''

We never had a Defense Secretary who would have said such a thing. Senator Hagel has said the ``Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here'' and forces Congress to do ``dumb things.''

On Iran, Senator Hagel has stated he is both for and against unilateral sanctions. He wrote to Senator Boxer's office on January 14:

I agree that, with Iran's continued rejection of diplomatic overtures, further effective sanctions, both multilateral and unilateral--may be necessary.

A week earlier, Senator Hagel told the Lincoln Journal Star that he opposed unilateral sanctions because they ``don't work and they just isolate the United States.''

When speaking about the Iraq war, Senator Hagel has described it as a ``meat grinder,'' a crude characterization that succeeded, once again, in gaining him some additional headlines.

Perhaps, in an effort to minimize his inconsistent record, Senator Hagel said during the Armed Services hearing on January 31 that he ``won't be in a policy-making position'' as Defense Secretary. This comment illustrates either naivety or a disturbing abdication of the Defense Secretary's responsibilities, which include well-informed policy decisions that will affect the lives of men and women in uniform. Of course the Secretary of Defense makes policy.

During the Armed Services hearing, Senator McCain was correct to try to ascertain what Senator Hagel's feelings are today about the surge in Iraq. A number of people agreed with Senator Hagel at the time but are now willing to admit with hindsight that the surge went better than expected, but not Senator Hagel.

Let's not forget that Senator Hagel did not merely oppose the surge. It was not enough to say he had misgivings or doubts. He called it the greatest foreign policy blunder since the Vietnam war. This has been the extreme, outlandish, rhetorical approach of Chuck Hagel throughout his career.

People involved in a position of this importance need to be careful about what they say. When one is being interviewed for a book, they should choose words wisely. That is why, during the Armed Services hearing, I asked Senator Hagel about why he told author Aaron David Miller ``the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here'' and that he ``always argued against some of the dumb things they do.''

Let me make this clear. Americans who come to Washington and advocate for Israel do meaningful work to advance a strong, sovereign, and democratic Israel, America's closest ally in the Middle East. Mr. Hagel did not defend his comments at the hearing. Instead, he blamed his statements on a poor choice of words.

Congressional actions, such as tough Iran sanctions and greater military cooperation with Israel, are not the products of intimidation. To suggest otherwise challenges the bipartisan judgment of the men and women elected to serve in this Chamber.

When questioned by Senator Graham during the hearing, Senator Hagel could not name one person in Congress who had been intimidated or one dumb thing that Congress had done because of the pro-Israel lobby. One or two troubling statements might not be disqualifying when taken alone, but all of the positions taken together paint what I believe is an accurate picture of this nominee. Our troops and allies need to rely on the words of the Secretary of Defense. Changing viewpoints for the purpose of political expediency or to make headlines is not the hallmark of a steadfast leader.

Weeks after the process began, two conclusions emerged from the totality of the information that has come to light about Senator Hagel: Either we should disregard everything he has said and stood for as merely hyperbole--

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Let's say everything the Senator has said is merely hyperbole or this is a nominee with a very unsettling and naive world view. You can't have it both ways. Either he means what he said over his career or it has all been theater.

The President is entitled to make his nomination, but the Senate must uphold its important constitutional duty to provide advice and consent on this nomination.

Early on, many friends on the Democratic side of the aisle voiced their very real concerns. Let me ask, Has Chuck Hagel truly answered those concerns? Which Chuck Hagel are we being asked to confirm: the one who shoots from the hip and means what he says or the one who is now willing to say anything to be confirmed?

We need a Secretary of Defense who can stand before the world and articulate that America is opposed to a nuclear Iran and rejects a policy of containment. We need a Secretary of Defense who can stand before the world and be clear that the Iranian Government is not a legitimately constituted government. We need a Secretary of Defense who has broad, bipartisan support. Sadly, that Secretary is not Chuck Hagel.


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