Gay rights group wants Chuck Hagel to address LGBT concerns during confirmation hearings

Posted by Mitch Perry on Mon, Jan 7, 2013 at 3:39 PM

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After Republicans successfully bullied President Obama from nominating Susan Rice for Secretary of State, it's obvious that the president is determined that won't happen again. Thus his official announcement on Monday that he's nominating former Nebraska Republican U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel to replace Leon Panetta for Defense Secretary, which was called an "in your face move" by South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham.

As has been documented, Hagel's statements on Israel, Iran and other issues around the Middle East have roiled many GOP senators who say they are not inclined to support Hagel.

But the opposition may be bipartisan. A number of gay rights groups have taken issue with Hagel's previous comments about gays, and today one such group, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, issued a statement.

"We continue to express our concerns about the nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense due to his poor track record on LGBT equality and reproductive rights. Cabinet choices set the tone for an administration and it is critical that those members support fairness, women's health and the belief in a level playing field for all. Though Chuck Hagel has recently apologized for past anti-gay remarks, we expect him to fully explain his views during the confirmation process and what steps he intends to take as defense secretary to demonstrate his support for LGBT members of the military and their families. We recognize that people do evolve on these issues and we hold out hope that, if confirmed, Hagel will meet the bar set by other cabinet secretaries and the administration when it comes to ensuring fairness for all LGBT military families and for women in the military."

Meanwhile, the two men in Florida who will have a say about whether or not to approve Obama's selection of Chuck Hagel — Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio — are playing things relatively close to the vest. A spokesperson for Sen. Nelson's office sends us this note: "Sen. Hagel has a distinguished record, but as he's done with other nominees Sen. Nelson will reserve comment until there's a full and fair confirmation hearing."

Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Times' Alex Leary reported that Rubio will undoubtedly come at Hagel for his comments about the 50-year plus embargo on the Communist island of Cuba, which the former Nebraska senator called "outdated, unrealistic, irrelevant" and "nonsensical" back in 2008.

In that interview, Hagel told CNN, "What do people think Vietnam is? Or the People's Republic of China? Both those countries are WTO members. We trade with them. We have relations. Great powers engage... Great powers are not afraid. Great powers trade."

Much of the Republican opposition has been about some of Hagel's statements regarding Israel, prompting some to label him anti-Semitic. That charge got additional fuel after it was reported that Hagel was the lone U.S. senator who failed to sign an ad urging Russian President Boris Yeltsin in 1999 to combat rising anti-Semitism in his country.

But Buzzfeed reported that Hagel wrote a separate letter to then President Bill Clinton, asking him to appeal to Boris Yeltsin to stop anti-Semitic acts in his country.

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