The White House would like to leave what happened a decade and a half ago in the past. But now more of Defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel's "insensitive" comments have surfaced.
Hagel apologized in December after the Human Rights Campaign and others complained about an interview in which he claimed James Hormel was too "aggressively gay" to become U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg. Hagel said, "My comments 14 years ago in 1998 were insensitive," and "they do not reflect my views or the totality of my public record."
Now Talking Points Memo has found more of the Omaha World-Herald's interview with the then-freshman Republican senator. In it, Hagel tells his home state newspaper that Hormel's appearance at a gay pride parade in San Francisco meant he was "anti-Catholic."
This was the same argument being made against Hormel's nomination by Arkansas Republican Tim Hutchinson. Videotape had surfaced of Hormel laughing as the men of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence marched by wearing their nun outfits. Hutchinson used the video as part of public campaign that cast Hormel as an anti-Catholic being sent to a predominantly Catholic country. Hormel had already been attacked by the religious right as a potential pedophile sympathizer because of books found at the Hormel Gay & Lesbian Center at the San Francisco Public Library.
Hutchinson was one of the senators who placed a hold on Hormel's nomination, eventually denying the nominee a confirmation vote. Instead President Clinton was forced to make a recess appointment for the historic pick.
Voting records show Hagel never objected to Hormel's nomination when it passed through the Foreign Affairs Committee, of which he was a member, but he later indicated he'd vote against Hormel's confirmation.
“It is very clear on this tape that he’s laughing and enjoying the antics of an anti-Catholic gay group in this gay parade,” Hagel told the Nebraska newspaper, according to TPM.
Hagel also complained that Hormel, a philanthropist from a wealthy family, had used his money to fund the library among other causes. Hagel said in the interview that Hormel had “very aggressively told the world of his gayness and the funding and all the things he’s been involved in. I think you do go beyond common sense there, and reason and a certain amount of decorum.”
TPM points out, though, that Hagel said being gay was not a disqualification on its own. Instead, Hagel took issue with the tape, with his record of donations, and Hagel claimed the controversy whipped up by the likes of Hutchinson had cast "a cloud of controversy" that would be "unfair to our country, it’s unfair to the host country and it’s unfair to the ambassador because the effectiveness of that individual is going to be seriously curtailed."
The White House, including adviser Valerie Jarrett and President Obama himself, moved to calm outrage over the statements as Hagel's nomination to the Defense post was announced this week. For his part, the president promised his administration would continue "to ensure that our men and women in uniform can serve the country they love, no matter who they love."
And former congressman Barney Frank reversed course, saying Hagel should be confirmed after first denouncing the apology as an obvious political move merely to get the job. Frank and the Log Cabin Republicans had pointed out Hagel supported the Defense of Marriage Act, “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in Nebraska.
The only openly gay U.S. senator, Tammy Baldwin, has said she is reserving judgment. Baldwin told MSNBC that she wants to meet with Hagel "to see if his apology is sincere and sufficient.” She said on Andrea Mitchell Reports that “I want to hear how he’s evolved on this issue in the last 14 years."