Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) On The Nomination Of Chuck Hagel To Be Secretary of Defense

The Senate has before us the President’s nomination of former Senator Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense.  I strongly support this nomination, and I urge all Senators to support it.  At a time of fiscal austerity, we need a leader at the Pentagon who understands what it takes to maintain the strongest military force in the world.  Senator Hagel, a former enlisted soldier, understands defense policy and practice from the ground up.  He is such a leader.

Senator Hagel is experienced by any measure.  Like many of the people he will lead in the Pentagon he has earned a combat infantryman’s badge.  He has two purple hearts from combat service in Vietnam and still carries that shrapnel in his chest.  On any issue having to do with the U.S. military I have long valued the first-hand experience of Chuck Hagel.

But this service alone is not what makes Senator Hagel qualified to lead the Pentagon.  He also has also been a leader in the public and private sectors.  He co-founded Vanguard Cellular Systems, a successful cellular carrier in the 1980s and 90s.  He was President and CEO of the USO [United Service Organization] and the Chief Operating Officer of the 1990 G-7 Summit.  He has served as president of an investment bank, on the boards of some of the world’s largest companies, and as a two-term United States Senator.  He is clearly a qualified nominee. 

On Israel

Since his nomination was announced last month, some have questioned Senator Hagel’s positions on a number of issues, notably his support for Israel.  Senator Hagel, as recently as his confirmation hearing before the Armed Services Committee, has reaffirmed his long record of support of Israel.

In January, Danny Ayalon, the Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister and former Israeli Ambassador to the United States, affirmed what he sees as Senator Hagel’s commitment to the unique U.S.-Israeli relationship.  As a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Hagel supported the authorization of almost $40 billion in aid to Israel.  In a 2008 book, Senator Hagel wrote that, “there will always be a special and historic bond with Israel exemplified by our continued commitment to Israel’s defense.”  He also wrote that that there can be no compromise on Israel’s identity as a Jewish state.  He has affirmed the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security and Israel’s right to defend itself against aggression.  These are just a few examples, but by any objective measure, Senator Hagel is committed to the mutual interests of the United States and Israel.

On Iran

Attacks suggesting that Senator Hagel is “soft” on Iran are also baseless.  Through all my conversations with Senator Hagel, I have never once doubted his belief in the President’s responsibility to build alliances and exhaust all available means to achieve our foreign policy goals through diplomacy.  But he also believes that aggressive actions by us against a foreign government should be strategic.  There is not a shred of evidence to support claims that he supports a nuclear Iran, or that he does not support the President’s efforts – unilateral or multilateral – to bring Iran to the negotiating table over its nuclear program.  He has reaffirmed that he believes in keeping all options on the table, including force if necessary, to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  Senator Hagel supports the sanctions against Iran already in place.  He has affirmed the need to keep military action on the table.  He supported the Iran Missile Proliferation Sanctions Act of 1997, the Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000, and the Iran Freedom Support Act of 2006.  Any assertion that Senator Hagel accepts Iran’s nuclear program is false.

On Terrorism

Then there are the bogus, inflammatory claims that Senator Hagel is soft on terrorism.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  He has not hesitated to call Hezbollah and Hamas what they are – terrorist organizations.  He condemns Iran’s support of Hezbollah and cosponsored Senate resolutions demanding that Hamas recognize Israel’s right to exist.  He also supported the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006, a multilateral effort to force Hamas to recognize Israel, renounce violence, disarm itself, and accept prior agreements with Israel.  

On Budget Cuts

In this time of talk of across the board budget cuts, some have suggested that Senator Hagel would recklessly weaken the defense budget.  Nothing in Chuck Hagel’s record supports that.  He resigned as Deputy Administrator of the Veterans Administration over what he considered to be inappropriate budget cuts. 

Senator Hagel has the ability to wisely guide the Pentagon through this challenging budgetary period.  He opposes cuts that would weaken our security, and he vigorously opposes sequestration which he has rightly compared to a meat cleaver.  Like Secretary Panetta and Secretary Gates, Chuck Hagel believes that the Pentagon has a role to play in deficit reduction, but not at the expense of keeping our military the pre-eminent fighting force in the world.  Reductions must be smart and strategic.  I am confident that our men and women in uniform will have no stronger advocate, and our Nation will have a stalwart defender, in Chuck Hagel. 


Senator Hagel – who has seen combat from the perspective of an enlisted member of our armed forces, sees our military as the last resort, not the first resort, in international relations.  No matter what any detractor may say, that is sound policy.  Matters of war and peace are matters of life and death.  Senator Hagel – a decorated veteran who still walks with the shrapnel from his wounds in Vietnam – understands that a decision to go to war is a decision to send our sons and daughters, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, into harm’s way.  It is his deep, visceral understanding of  this fact, his record of experience, his patriotism and his dedication to this nation that qualify him to be the next Secretary of Defense.

Let us have this vote.  Let us confirm this patriot and American hero.  And let us do it without further delay.

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