Schumer says his ‘Jewish lobby’ talk almost brought Chuck Hagel to tears

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Called upon this morning, again, to defend his endorsement of Chuck Hagel's nomination as defense secretary, Senator Chuck Schumer answered by talking about a conversation he had with Hagel about his previous reference to a "Jewish lobby" in America.

"He struck me as sincere, and you know, you have to be sitting there at the meeting obviously, but I also told him when he used the word 'Jewish lobby,' what it meant to Jewish people," Schumer said, referring to Hagel's use of the term in an interview in 2006.

"And I told him what a double standard is. That Jewish people throughout the centuries have suffered a double standard. Everyone could be a farmer except Jewish people. Everyone could live in Moscow except Jewish people. I said, 'When everyone else can lobby but all of a sudden when those of us who are pro-Israel lobby, it's a negative, that's a double standard. And I'm sure you didn't mean it, but it harkens to the old days.' And he really, you know, he almost had tears in his eyes when he understood. So I believe he will be good."

Schumer met with Hagel for 90 minutes at the White House shortly after the president announced his nomination, and has served as Hagel's chief defender against charges that Hagel isn't sufficiently pro-Israel. Schumer noted, as he has before, that no major Jewish groups have opposed Hagel's nomination, and said that the opposition to the nomination could be traced back to Hagel's opposition to the Iraq War when he was in the Senate.

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"The main fight on Hagel is coming from the neocons, who you know well," said Schumer, who took the question from a former aide to Sen. Al D'Amato. "And they resent Hagel's apostasy on Iraq. You may remember--the neocons helped push Iraq--and Hagel was one of the first Republicans to say Iraq wasn't working. And he was right. But that's where it's coming from.

"So I have no qualms about my position. And as you can see now, senators McCain and Graham and Alexander have said they may not vote for him, but they'll let the vote come forward."

Schumer, who has previously said he'll be watching Hagel "like an eagle," predicted Hagel would ease the doubts after his confirmation.

"I think he'll be nominated, he'll be confirmed, and I think he'll surprise you on the issue of Israel about how strong he is," Schumer said.

Schumer made the remarks this morning after giving a speech at a breakfast in lower Manhattan hosted by the Association for a Better New York.