Chuck Hagel, nominated by President Obama for Secretary of Defense on Monday, has come under fire from gay rights groups for his remarks about James Hormel, nominated in 1998 by Bill Clinton to be the ambassador to Luxembourg.
At the time, the moderate Republican senator from Nebraska criticized Hormel for being “openly aggressively gay” and questioned his ability to do an “effective job.”
Hagel has since apologized for the remarks, insisting they were “insensitive.” He also said he was in favor of gay Americans serving openly in the military—something he once opposed, at the time insisting that "the U.S. armed forces aren’t some social experiment."
The turnabout has left many speculating whether Hagel’s views have truly evolved or if he’s just talking the talk to get back to D.C.
Some of Hagel’s fiercest critics, at least, have accepted his apology in recent days and have gone as far to offer him a full-throttled endorsement.
Just last week, former Congressman Barney Frank said he was “strongly opposed” to Hagel’s appointment because of his remarks about Hormel. But in an interview Monday with the Boston Globe, the openly gay Democrat said “with the attack coming out of the right, I hope he gets confirmed.” Frank said he supported Hagel’s positions on the military and the war in Afghanistan—two issues that could suffer setbacks if he doesn’t get the post.
And then there’s the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBT equality–rights advocacy group in the country, which has also changed its tune.
Following Hagel’s apology, HRC —which previously gave Hagel low marks during his tenure in the Senate and said Hagel’s comments about Hormel were “unacceptable”—now supports Obama’s nominee.
“Senator Hagel’s apology and his statement of support for LGBT equality is appreciated and shows just how far as a country we have come when a conservative former Senator from Nebraska can have a change of heart on LGBT issues,” HRC President Chad Griffin said in a statement. “Our community continues to add allies to our ranks and we’re proud that Senator Hagel is one of them.”
President Obama himself has expressed a similar sentiment, recently telling NBC’s Meet The Press that Hagel, a decorated Vietnam vet, “has apologized” for his remarks. “And I think it’s a testimony to what has been a positive change over the last decade in terms of people’s attitudes about gays and lesbians serving our country.”
Wisconsin’s Tammy Baldwin, the first openly gay member of the U.S. Senate, questioned the sincerity of Hagel’s apology but said she would give him a fair and thorough review and did not indicate that she would derail his nomination.
“I plan to ask some tough questions,” the Democrat told msnbc’s Andrea Mitchell, adding that she wanted to “see if his apology is sincere and sufficient. I want to hear how he’s evolved on this issue.”
Of course, others are still skeptical and some groups are flatly saying they will not forgive Hagel.
D.C.-based LGBT advocacy group Get Equal still flatly opposes Hagel’s nomination. Managing director Heather Cronk told msnbc.com that although Hagel has “apologized, we haven’t seen anything else saying he’s pro-LGBT.” She said there were other “red flags” in Hagel’s record concerning labor, immigration issues, and environment issues.
Cronk said it raised questions why Obama was spending so much political capital on Hagel. The Nebraskan “doesn’t appear to be sharing any of the core values that the administration does,” she said.
And then there are the Log Cabin Republicans, who have gone as far as running a full-page ad in the Washington Post opposing him, arguing his apology was “too little, too late.”
However, the conservative gay rights group endorsed Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney—who, unlike Hagel, opposed the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell and supported a Defense of Marriage Amendment .