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Public Statements

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

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. LEVIN. Mr. President, it is now time for us to vote up or down on the nomination, for many reasons.

The nomination has been before us for an adequate length of time for us to get the information our colleagues have asked for, but also there is the looming fact of sequestration. We need to have a Secretary of Defense who is not only in office but whose leadership is not in limbo but is there. Our troops need it. Their families need it. Our country needs it.

As of today we have 66,000 military personnel in harm's way in Afghanistan. The President of Afghanistan has just directed the United States to remove its special operations forces from a key Afghan province. Our military faces key decisions about the pace of the drawdown between now and the end of 2014, the size and composition of a residual force, and the terms and conditions for the ongoing presence in Afghanistan of the United States and our coalition partners after 2014.

At the same time we face new and growing threats elsewhere, including the ongoing threat posed by Iran's nuclear weapons program and the increasingly destructive civil war in Syria, with the risk that that conflict could result in the loss of control over that country's substantial stockpile of chemical weapons. There is also the growing instability in other countries affected by the Arab spring; the growth of al-Qaida affiliates in ungoverned regions, including parts of Yemen, Somalia, north Africa; and the continued unpredictable behavior of the nuclear-armed regime in North Korea.

We face these challenges at a time when the Department of Defense budget is under unique pressure as a result of cuts previously agreed upon by Congress, the budgeting by continuing resolution, and the impending threat of a sequester. These across-the-board cuts will affect Defense and just about every other agency we have. Those cuts are going to be disastrous in many ways. I hope we can still find ways to avoid them, but as of right now the threat of a sequester is a real one. It is within a few days.

The Department of Defense has already instituted civilian hiring freezes, reduced or eliminated temporary and term employees, deferred facilities maintenance, and begun canceling or postponing the maintenance of ships, aircraft, and ground vehicles. In the next few days, the Department will begin to implement additional actions, including furloughs for most civilian employees, cutbacks in flying hours, steaming hours and other military training, and cancellation of contracts. And those contracts, when they are cancelled, have major costs to the Treasury. Those are not savings, except in the short term, perhaps. But in the long term, we not only lose the equipment and the product of the contracts, but we also have these cancellation costs which will hit the Treasury.
The result of these looming cuts is truly devastating and it is serious. For example, the Army informs us that if sequestration continues through the end of the fiscal year, two-thirds of its brigade combat teams will fall below acceptable readiness levels. The Air Force says it will not be able to support requirements outside of Afghanistan and will experience significant degradation in its airdrop and refueling capabilities. The Navy says the Nimitz and the George H.W. Bush carrier strike groups will not be ready for scheduled deployments later this year, resulting in an indefinite extension of the Truman and Eisenhower deployments, with the resulting impact on morale and retention.

Hundreds of Department of Defense investment programs, acquisition programs, and research and development projects may become unexecutable because we have insufficient funds to enter needed contracts. By the end of the summer, the Department of Defense says it will be unable to pay its TRICARE bills and will be in a position of having to deny that critical health care service to military members, families, and retirees.

Our men and women in uniform need a Secretary of Defense to lead them through these difficult challenges. They need a Secretary of Defense to defend their interests in the budget battles we know are about to come. They need a Secretary of Defense to speak out and ensure that Congress and the country understand the consequences of sequester and, if the sequester cannot be avoided, to help them avoid the worst of those consequences and to end the impacts as quickly as possible. Now, as much as anytime in the recent past, is not a time when we can afford to leave the Department of Defense with leadership that is in limbo.

Information has been requested, appropriately, by colleagues about the nominee. Information has been provided to the best of the nominee's ability. This information falls into two categories: requests for Senator Hagel's speeches and requests for additional financial disclosure.

With regard to the speeches, Senator Hagel and his team have conducted an exhaustive review and have provided us with all of the speeches available to them--not only the prepared statements requested in our committee questionnaire but also transcripts and even videos of speeches he has been able to obtain from outside sources. Before the recess, I placed in the Record links to several other speeches that had surfaced on the Internet.

In recent days, Senator Hagel has received additional requests for speeches in the exclusive control of the Washington Speakers Bureau and for access to his senatorial archives at the University of Nebraska.

On the first point, the Washington Speakers Bureau has informed Senator Hagel and the Department of Defense that all speeches given under its auspices are ``private, off the record, and not recorded''--except in rare cases where a customer requests that a recording be kept for archival purposes only. Further, the Department of Defense informs us that the Washington Speakers Bureau will not provide any recordings of speeches that were given by Senator Hagel or even confirm which of its clients may have recorded speeches. Since neither Senator Hagel nor the Department of Defense has access to these speeches, they cannot be provided to the Senate.

On the second point, the University of Nebraska holds title to Senator Hagel's archives.

The University has publicly stated that once the archives are processed and indexed according to the standards of the Society of American Archivists, they will be open to the public. Until that time, the archives will not be open to the public. Again, since neither Senator Hagel nor DOD has access to these materials, they cannot provide them to us. It is also worth noting that these archives cover the period of Senator Hagel's service in the Senate. Senator Hagel has an extensive record of speeches and votes during this period that are readily accessible to the Senate and the public through the Congressional Record and other official documents.

With regard to financial disclosure, Senator Hagel has complied with the same disclosure requirements and conflict of interest rules that have applied to at least the last eight Secretaries of Defense and to hundreds of other nominees for senior DOD positions over the course of the last five administrations.

Despite his compliance with the same disclosure rules that apply to everybody else, we have heard innuendos that Senator Hagel is trying to hide something. Senator Hagel serves with a number of distinguished individuals on the Board of Advisors of a private equity firm. We had one Senator suggest, without any evidence, that ``it is, at a minimum, relevant to know'' if the fees that Senator Hagel received for his service on this Board ``came directly from Saudi Arabia, [or] . . . from North Korea.'' Another Senator suggested that we should postpone a vote on the nomination because ``FOX News is going to run a story tomorrow regarding some speeches . . . which were made and paid for by foreign governments Ð. . . [that] may not be friendly to us.'' This story apparently died before it was aired, because it was apparently based on a hoax.

These are unfair innuendos and they have been answered even though they are unfair.

Senator Hagel has an extensive record of service to his country. As a young man, he enlisted in the Army and served with distinction in Vietnam. He served as the head of the USO, and as the Deputy Administrator of the VA during the Reagan Administration. He was a businessman. Many of us served with him during his two terms in the Senate. Since he left the Senate, he has continued to serve, as co-chairman of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, a member of the Defense Policy Board, and a member of the Energy Department's Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future.

Senator Hagel has been endorsed by five former Secretaries of Defense, three former Secretaries of State, and six former National Security Advisors, who served under both Democratic and Republican Presidents. He has been endorsed by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, AMVETS, Vietnam Veterans of America, and the American Legion. He has received the support of the Military Officers Association of America, the Foreign Area Officers Association, and the Non Commissioned Officers Association.

Last month, Senator Hagel was endorsed in a letter signed by six former U.S. Ambassadors to Israel, along with dozens of other retired senior diplomats. The letter stated:

We support, strongly and without qualification, President Obama's nomination of Chuck Hagel to be the next Secretary of Defense. Most of us have known the Senator for a decade or more and consistently have found him to be one of the best informed leaders in the U.S. Congress on national security issues.

Senator Hagel's political courage has impressed us all. He has stood and argued publicly for what he believes is best for the United States. Time and again, he has chosen to take the path of standing up for our nation, rather than the path of political expediency. He has always supported the pillars of American foreign policy: a strong military; a robust Atlantic partnership; a commitment to the security of Israel, as a friend and ally; a determination to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons; and the defense of human rights as a core principle of America's role in the world. . . .

We urge speedy confirmation of this outstanding American patriot to be the next Secretary of Defense.

If confirmed, Senator Hagel would be the first former enlisted man, and the first veteran of the Vietnam War, to serve as Secretary of Defense. This background gives Senator Hagel an invaluable perspective not only with respect to the difficult decisions and recommendations that a Secretary of Defense must make regarding the use of force and the commitment of U.S. troops overseas, but also with respect to the day-to-day decisions a Secretary must make to ensure that our men and women in uniform and their families receive the support and assistance that they need and deserve. It would be a positive message for our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines in harm's way around the world to know that one of their own holds the highest office in the Department of Defense.

The President needs to have a Secretary of Defense in whom he has trust, who will give him independent advice, a person of integrity and one who has a personal understanding of the consequences of decisions relative to the use of military force. Senator Hagel certainly has those critically important qualifications and he is well-qualified to lead the Department of Defense.
The vote which is coming at noon is a vote to invoke cloture to end the debate so we can finally, later on today, hopefully, but at some future hour, finally vote on this important nomination and end the situation where this nominee is in limbo and the leadership of the Department of Defense is uncertain and in limbo as well. The time has come to vote on the nomination of Senator Hagel, and to do that we must end debate and invoke cloture.

I yield the floor.


Mr. LEVIN. First, on the question of whether this is a filibuster, under our rules Senators have a right to speak and debate as long as they want until 60 Senators decide it is time to end debate. That is the definition, under our rules, of a filibuster. And that is the right of Senators to engage in. That is not the issue, as to whether it is right; the issue is whether it is now time to end debate. Under our rules, in order to bring debate to an end, where Senators insist on continuing a debate unless 60 Senators vote to end it, this is what this vote will be about at noon--whether we want to bring this debate to an end. Why? Well, first of all, we need a Secretary of Defense. But before we can get a Secretary of Defense, there has to be a vote on the nomination itself. The vote at noon will be a vote as to whether we want to bring this debate to an end so that we can, at a later time--hopefully today--then vote on the nomination itself. That is a majority vote, not 60 votes. In fact, the final vote on either a nominee or on a bill is always a majority vote. The 60 votes comes into play when Senators say: We are not going to end debate. We have a right to talk as long as we want in the Senate until 60 Senators vote to end it. And we demand that vote of 60 Senators takes place to see if there are 60 Senators who want to end debate. That is called cloture. That is what we will be voting on at noon. That is the very definition of a filibuster, under our rules.

So it is not unusual, as the Senator from Oklahoma says, for there to be a demand for a cloture vote on positions in the Cabinet. That has happened before. But what has never happened is that that has been insisted upon for a nomination to be Secretary of Defense. That is what is unusual.

It seems to me it is essential now that we get to the vote on the nomination itself, which will come later on today--again, I hope--and the only way to do that is if we vote to end the debate on this nomination, which is what will take place at noon. Whether there will be 60 votes, we will find out at noon, but hopefully there will be because this is a position which needs to be filled.

There have been many misstatements about quotes of Senator Hagel. Obviously, not all of the statements that have been attributed to him are misstatements, but some of them are. Just one of them we heard earlier this morning was about the fact that he has talked about the sickening slaughter by the Israelis in the case of Lebanon. So here is the quote, and it was a full speech. It was on C-SPAN. The quote is--and this involves the issue of Lebanon--``The sickening slaughter on both sides must end.'' So what Senator Hagel was bemoaning was the loss of lives on both sides. I would hope that decent people everywhere would bemoan the massive loss of lives on both sides that occurred during those events in Lebanon. I was there, and I saw what happened--the huge loss of life. So he was bemoaning the sickening slaughter on both sides and saying it must end and calling on President Bush to call for an immediate cease-fire. I find nothing reprehensible about such a call.
This has been a debate which has raised a lot of issues, but, to me, some of the most compelling arguments have been made by former Secretaries of Defense and State urging that we approve and confirm Senator Hagel.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record letters of support to which I will refer. At an earlier time, they were made part of the Record, but it is important that they be made a part of the Record of today's debate and not just previous debates.


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