CNN Senior Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash
January 15th, 2013
Washington (CNN) - Sen. Chuck Schumer, a key Democrat and Jewish lawmaker, said a Monday meeting with Secretary of Defense nominee Chuck Hagel helped him overcome his reservations about some of the nominee's past comments. Hagel has been received skeptically by some on both sides of the aisle because of positions he has taken on Israel, Iran, and his 2007 statement that a "Jewish lobby intimidated lawmakers."
Schumer, the third-ranking Democrat in the Senate, becomes the second prominent Democrat in the last day to back the former two-term Republican senator from Nebraska.
Schumer said in a press release, "Based on several key assurances provided by Senator Hagel, I am currently prepared to vote for his confirmation. I encourage my Senate colleagues who have shared my previous concerns to also support him."
"Senator Hagel volunteered that he has always supported Israel's right to retaliate militarily in the face of terrorist attacks by Hezbollah or Hamas," he said.
Schumer added, "On Iran, Senator Hagel rejected a strategy of containment and expressed the need to keep all options on the table in confronting that country. But he didn't stop there. In our conversation, Senator Hagel made a crystal-clear promise that he would do 'whatever it takes' to stop Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons, including the use of military force."
The New York lawmaker also said their conversation "clarified a number of his past statements and positions and elaborated on several others," including Hagel's view that Hezbollah is a terrorist group and opposition to negotiations between the U.S. and Hezbollah or Hamas.
"Regarding his unfortunate use of the term 'Jewish lobby' to refer to certain pro-Israel groups, Senator Hagel understands the sensitivity around such a loaded term and regrets saying it," Schumer said, adding he hoped the "thorough explanations will remove any lingering controversy regarding his nomination."
The 90-minute meeting was held at the White House, according to a Senate aide, and Schumer was Hagel's first face-to-face meeting with a U.S. senator regarding his nomination. It is rare for a nominee's first meeting to be with a senator who does not sit on the committee which will hold hearings on the nomination.
After the meeting with Hagel, the aide said Schumer met with President Barack Obama. Schumer reached out to Hagel Tuesday morning "to inform him he was prepared to support his nomination and wish him the best as he undergoes the full confirmation process," the aide said.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, another Jewish Democrat who represents a significant Jewish population in California, said in a telephone conversation with Hagel he "pledged without reservation to support President Obama's polices – policies that I believe have made our world safer and our alliances stronger."
The Senate aide who spoke about Hagel said the New York senator was also offered a telephone conversation with Hagel, but said the issue was important enough to merit a face-to-face meeting. Schumer returned to Washington from New York for the meeting, as the Senate is currently not in session.
On the Republican side, Sen. John McCain said Sunday he would not exert the power available to every senator to block a nomination from receiving a floor vote. The Arizona Republican maintained he has a "number of questions about his view of America's role in the world, about Iraq, about Afghanistan, about Iran, the threat of Iran." McCain said he hopes his friendship with Hagel remains despite the reservations.
Meanwhile, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee raised questions about Hagel's "overall temperament." Other Republicans have also questioned the former Nebraska Republican senator's positions.