President Obama made vague allusions to the lingering controversy over comments made a decade ago by former senator Chuck Hagel, the president's nominee for the new secretary of Defense.
At a press conference announcing the nomination today, Obama insisted that Hagel, a Vietnam veteran who was wounded in combat, has the best interest of all American troops at heart.
"As these leaders know, the work of protecting our nation is never done, and we’ve still got much to do," said Obama. "Ending the war in Afghanistan and caring for those who have borne the battle; preparing for the full range of threats, from the unconventional to the conventional, including things like cyber security; and within our military, continuing to ensure that our men and women in uniform can serve the country they love, no matter who they love."
The president also referred to Hagel as "a champion of our troops and our veterans and our military families."
Valerie Jarrett, President Obama’s senior adviser, also publicly defended Hagel's nomination after a gay Republican group placed a full-page ad in The Washington Post blasting Hagel’s LGBT rights record.
Jarrett came to Hagel’s defense in a statement released to the media. Here’s a snippet: “Recently, some in the LGBT community have expressed concerns about Senator Hagel's past comments. In response, Senator Hagel issued a statement in which he apologized for comments that he made in the 1990s, and affirmed both his commitment to LGBT civil rights as well as his support for open service and the families of gay and lesbian service members. One of the great successes of the LGBT civil rights movement is that it provides the space and opportunity for people to change their hearts and minds, to right past wrongs, and, over time, to evolve."
The Log Cabin Republicans ad in the Post, purchased at a discount, pointed out Hagel’s homophobic comments in 1998 regarding a gay nominee for an ambassadorship as well as the former Nebraska senator’s support for the Defense of Marriage Act, “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in Nebraska.
The advertisement also pointed out that Hagel later apologized to James Hormel, who went on to a recess appointment as Luxembourg ambassador, for calling him “openly, aggressively gay” and saying his sexual orientation would prevent him from doing “an effective job” — but the ad accused Hagel of apologizing only to secure his nomination.
GOProud, another LGBT Republican group, is not on the same page with Log Cabin, calling the latter group’s efforts against Hagel a “smear campaign.” Rick Jacobs of the LGBT rights group Courage Campaign also denounced negative statements about Hagel, saying they would do nothing to sink his nomination. Meanwhile, The Huffington Post points out that Log Cabin did not have such harsh criticism for Mitt Romney, who took a far-right turn in his failed run for the presidency. For their part, Log Cabin officials claim the group has a new direction, especially as R. Clarke Cooper departs as executive director of the organization.
People such as Allyson Robinson, the new executive director of Outserve-SLDN, will be watching Hagel closely, as he will be in charge of the recent integration of out servicemen and women. Robinson is also pushing for granting additional benefits to soldiers’ same-sex partners.