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Obama, still undecided on defense secretary, defends Hagel

Then-Gen. David H. Petraeus gives then-Sen.'s Barack Obama and Chuck Hagel an aerial tour of Baghdad in July 2008. Obama may announce Dec. 21, 2012, his choice for Secretary of State and Defense. Hagel is the leading contender to head the Pentagon.

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama said he has not decided on a new defense secretary but has seen nothing that would disqualify former Sen. Chuck Hagel, the Nebraska Republican who has come under fire as his name has been floated for the post in recent weeks.

“I’ve served with Chuck Hagel. I know him. He is a patriot,” Obama said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “He is somebody who has done extraordinary work both in the United States Senate (and) somebody who served this country with valor in Vietnam. And is somebody who’s currently serving on my intelligence advisory board and doing an outstanding job.

But Hagel would get very few Republican votes for confirmation, and some Democrats are skeptical as well, Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., said on “Fox News Sunday.”

“A lot of Republicans and Democrats are very concerned about Chuck Hagel’s position on Iran sanctions, his views toward Israel, Hamas and Hezbollah,” Graham said.

“There is wide and deep concerns about his policies,” he added. “The hearings will matter a lot to me,” going on to predict that “there will be very few Republican votes for his nomination.”

Obama mentioned a position Hagel took in 1998 that an “openly, aggressively gay” man should not represent the U.S. as an ambassador.

“With respect to the particular comment that you quoted, he apologized for it,” Obama said. “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. And that’s something that I’m very proud to have led.

“And I think that anybody who serves in my administration understands my attitude and position on those issues,” he added.

An organization of gay Republicans took out a full-page ad in the New York Times Thursday calling Hagel “wrong on gay rights, wrong on Iran, wrong on Israel.”

The as quoted from remarks Hagel made in 1998 about James C. Hormel, a San Francisco philanthropist nominated by President Bill Clinton to be ambassador to Luxembourg.

“They are representing our lifestyle, our values, our standards,” Hagel said at the time. “And I think that it is an inhibiting factor to be gay — openly, aggressively gay like Mr. Hormel — to do an effective job.”

Hagel issued a statement Dec. 21, saying, “My remarks 14 years ago in 1998 were insensitive. They do not reflect my views or the totality of my public record, and I apologize to Ambassador Hormel and any LGBT Americans who may question my commitment to their civil rights.”

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