In a development illustrating one measure of the LGBT political lobby’s influence on the Obama administration, a Republican figure said to be a top-runner to become the next Secretary of Defense apologized for his remarks 14 years ago, casting aspersions on an openly gay nominee to be ambassador.
In a statement issued Friday (December 21), former U.S. Senator Charles “Chuck” Hagel (R-Neb.) took the extraordinary measure of issuing a statement of apology for his remarks against the nomination of James Hormel to become ambassador to Luxemborg under President Bill Clinton.
At that time, in 1998, Hagel said Hormel’s openness about his sexual orientation was “aggressive,” that it could inhibit his ability to represent the United States in a foreign post, and that Clinton’s nomination of an openly gay person to the post lacked “common sense.”
On letterhead as chairman of the Atlantic Council, a group devoted to promoting cooperation among countries for security and other global affairs, Hagel said, “My comments 14 years ago in 1998 were insensitive. They do not reflect my views or the totality of my public record, and I apologize to Ambassador Hormel and any LGBT Americans who may question my commitment to their civil rights. I am fully supportive of ‘open service’ and committed to LGBT military families.”
Hagel issued his statement shortly after two of the nation’s largest LGBT political organizations said they are not happy with reports that President Obama is considering Republican former U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel to be his next Secretary of Defense.
Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin issued a statement Friday, calling Hagel’s past comments and his Congressional voting on gay-related issues “unacceptable.” Stacy Long, policy director for another large national LGBT political group, said her organization is also “gravely concerned” about Hagel’s commitment to equality for gay people.
A number of groups have also registered reservations about the potential nomination, some arguing that Hagel is not supportive enough of U.S. ally Israel.
U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, who is both gay and Jewish, told politico.com that he thinks Hagel would be “very good” with respect to Israel and the Defense budget, but he told the Washington Free Beacon that Hagel’s anti-gay comments were a “disqualification from being appointed.”
President Obama reportedly invited former U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel to the White House in early December to discuss the moderate Republican’s interests in becoming the next Secretary of Defense. Current DOD Secretary Leon Panetta is said to be interested in retiring soon from his short term as head of the nation’s military.
Hagel drew the ire of many LGBT in 1998 when he criticized then President Bill Clinton’s appointment of an openly gay man to be ambassador to Luxemborg. In a news interview, Hagel characterized nominee James Hormel, who was eventually confirmed, as “openly aggressively gay.”
“Ambassadorial posts are sensitive. They are representing America. They are representing our lifestyle, our values, our standards,” Hagel told the Omaha World-Herald. “And I think it is an inhibiting factor to be gay — openly aggressively gay like Mr. Hormel — to do an effective job.”
As senator, Hagel also defended the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” ban on gays in the military.
The Human Rights Campaign’s scoring of Hagel’s voting record ranked him at zero in two of the last three congressional sessions, and a 20 out of 100 in the last session he served. Hagel opposed an effort to ban same-sex marriage nationally through an amendment to the federal constitution.
Meanwhile, there is expected to be widespread support from LGBT groups for President Obama’s nomination Friday of U.S. Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) to become Secretary of State.