WASHINGTON – On the eve of a Senate vote on the controversial nomination of Chuck Hagel to serve as Secretary of Defense, Rep. Jared Polis said he was unaware of critical remarks that a leading Democratic lawmaker and a gay philanthropist made of the nominee.
“I have not seen those comments,” the Boulder Democrat said of statements that Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) and James Hormel have made about Hagel’s positions on Israel and gay issues in the previous six weeks.
Also Polis said he had no comment on whether Hagel should be confirmed as Secretary of the Department of Defense. In a brief interview off the House floor Thursday afternoon, Polis said he was worried more about looming spending cuts to domestic and defense programs than Hagel’s nomination. “This sequester is going to happen (in two weeks) whether or not Chuck Hagel is the next Secretary of Defense,” he said.
Polis requested that this reporter send Engel and Hormel’s remarks to his office for comment. His spokesman did not respond to a follow-up e-mail message.
Polis’ reticence contrasts with his outspoken positions on foreign policy and gay rights.
A three-term lawmaker, the 37 year old has spoken of his Jewish background as an influence on his career. Polis is one of the few openly gay people to be elected to the House of Representatives as a freshman. He was also one of the “Gang of Four” liberals whose opposition to a federal marriage amendment sponsored by then-Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Co.) in 2004 prompted them to spend millions of dollars to rebuild the Colorado Democratic Party.
Yet Polis has also been a staunch defender of President Obama; his Twitter page includes a picture of him and the President sitting next to each other and smiling on Air Force One last spring.
More independent-minded Democrats have criticized Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska, for statements he made about Israel and gay activists.
Last December, Rep. Engel, a leading Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said Hagel seemed to have displayed an “endemic hostility” to Israel. Hagel said in 2006 that “Jewish lobbyists intimidate a lot of people” on Capitol Hill.
In January, former Luxembourg Ambassador James Hormel said Hagel’s apology to gay-rights activists before his Senate confirmation hearing was “self serving.” Hagel had criticized a controversial San-Francisco gay group known as the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence for being anti-Catholic and said Hormel’s effort to teach homosexuality in public school curticulums showed he was “aggressively gay.”
Defense hawks have seized on Engel’s and Hormel’s comments to argue that liberals should join forces to defeat Hagel’s nomination to head the Pentagon.
The fate of Hagel’s nomination in the U.S. Senate is fluid. Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, has not taken a position on Hagel. And Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) has said he may filibuster Hagel’s bid if President Obama does not account for his activities on the night of September 11 when al-Qaeda insurgents killed Libyan Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said the upper chamber will vote on Hagel’s nomination Friday.