Chuck Schumer ducks the Hagel appointment, for now
Chuck Schumer very much doesn't have anything to say yet about the president's nomination of Chuck Hagel as defense secretary.
A number of Jewish groups and pro-Israel politicians have said that Hagel is insufficiently supportive of Israel.
"Chuck Hagel, as a former colleague and a patriot with a decorated service record, has earned the right to nothing less than a full and fair process in the Senate," said Schumer, a key surrogate for Obama on Israel and Jewish issues, in a statement. "I look forward to fully studying his record and exploring his views."
Schumer was similarly unenthusiastic last month on "Meet the Press," when asked about the possibility of a Hagel nomination.
"I'd have to study his record," Schumer said then. "I'm not going to comment until the president makes a nomination."
Schumer served in the Senate with Hagel for ten years, and is presumably very familiar with Hagel's record and views.
His lack of support was thought then to be a bad sign for Hagel, having followed a swell of criticism from Hagel's former Republican colleagues. But the president decided to nominate him anyway, emphasizing Hagel's own military service in a ceremony at the White House.
"In Chuck Hagel, our troops see a decorated combat veteran of character and strength," he said. "They see one of their own."
Hagel's service could be a tough sell, after opponents spent the last few weeks circulating a variety of old quotes that cast Hagel as a skeptic on some pro-Israel issues (and one in which he criticized a nominee as "aggressively gay").
As his critics have been eager to point out, Hagel once referred to a "Jewish lobby," and he was the lone senator not to sign a 1999 letter denouncing anti-semitism in Russia, opting to send his own letter to President Clinton.
"Senator Hagel is a war hero who served our country honorably and was prescient in his questioning of the Iraq war," said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand in a statement. "But we must look at his entire public service record in its totality in the upcoming confirmation hearings. Considering some of the statements Senator Hagel has made, and votes he has cast, particularly regarding Iran policy, tough questions must and will be asked to clarify his views before these hearings are complete. I look forward to a fair and thorough process."
Some Jewish groups have supported the nomination, most notably the National Jewish Democratic Council, which endorsed it, after having previously expressed concerns about Hagel's support for Israel.
Assemblyman Dov Hikind, an Israel hardliner, disagreed.
“The NJDC’s statement made me sick to my stomach,” he said in his own statement. “It’s a spineless position for an informed Jewish group to assume. The message is ‘we are Democrats before we are anything.’ That’s disgusting!"