WASHINGTON — Former senator Chuck Hagel, widely viewed as President Barack Obama’s likely choice to lead the Pentagon and already under fire from some pro-Israel supporters, faced a new level of resistance last week from activists upset over his record on gay rights.
The sharpest criticism came from the Human Rights Campaign, a key White House ally and the country’s leading gay-rights group, whose president pointed to a 1998 comment in which Hagel questioned whether an “openly aggressively gay” nominee could be an effective U.S. ambassador.
“Senator Hagel’s unacceptable comments about gay people, coupled with his consistent anti-LGBT record in Congress, raise serious questions about where he stands on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality today,” said HRC President Chad Griffin, a major fundraiser for Obama’s reelection campaign. “For him to be an appropriate candidate for any administration post, he must repudiate his comments.”
The rising concerns bubbled to the surface even after phone calls to gay rights activists in recent days from senior White House aides, including top Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett. The aides told the activists that any Pentagon nominee would “live up to the principles” on gay rights established by Obama, according to several people familiar with the conversations.
Hagel issued an apology Friday. “My comments 14 years ago in 1998 were insensitive,” he said in a written statement issued by his office. “They do not reflect my views or the totality of my public record, and I apologize to Ambassador Hormel and any lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans who may question my commitment to their civil rights.
“I am fully supportive of ‘open service,’” he added, “and committed to LGBT military families.”
— The Washington Post