WASHINGTON – Despite public pressure to oppose President Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Defense, Sen. Mark Udall announced he intends to support the bid of former Sen. Chuck Hagel.
The Colorado Democrat, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, indicated approval of Hagel’s testimony before the panel Thursday. In a statement, Udall suggested the former Republican senator from Nebraska would make a knowledgeable, pragmatic steward of the nation’s defense forces.
“Sen. Hagel showed me today and throughout his confirmation process that he understands the issues facing the U.S. military, and that he agrees we need to pursue a smart, but tough national security policy. I believe he will stand with Israel and our allies, take every necessary step to prevent a nuclear Iran, treat all service members equally regardless of their sexual orientation and strengthen our cybersecurity,” Udall wrote in a statement.
Udall asked Hagel to clarify his positions on deterring Iran from building nuclear weapons, support for Israel, increasing the nation’s cybersecurity forces, and treatment of gay, bisexual, and transgender members of the military.
Half way through the former colleagues’ nine-minute exchange, Udall noted the U.S. Air Force Academy, US Northern Command, and Space Command are based in Colorado and indicated they are “well positioned to train new cybersecurity experts.” Hagel said he had traveled to Colorado to visit those facilities and while he did not echo Udall’s endorsement of their training ability, he described cyberwarfare as an “insidious, quiet kind of threat we have not seen before.”
Udall’s statement did not address criticisms that Hagel endorsed unilateral nuclear disarmament on the part of the United States and voted for expanding a military installation in southeastern Colorado over the objections of local residents.
After the committee’s morning session, Udall did not return a request for comment about his exchange with Hagel. His spokesman did not respond to an e-mail.
Last month, Americans for a Strong Defense, released a 30-second ad that urged Udall and fellow Democrat Sen. Michael Bennet to oppose Hagel’s nomination. The commercial accused Hagel of supporting unilateral nuclear disarmament on the part of the United States, citing an interview he gave to al Jazeera in March 2009.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said in an interview he harbored a similar concern. He noted that Hagel denied having supported unilateral disarmament in his testimony before the committee, but endorsed the concept in a book he co-wrote with an advocacy group, Global Zero, which seeks to eliminate all nuclear weapons.
“It’s more troubling than I thought. I looked back at his book, and he called for unilateral disarmament three times. Yet he told us he had never supported it, ” Sessions said.
Also, Udall did not ask Hagel to explain a more specific Colorado issue.
As a senator in 2007, Hagel cast a key vote against a measure that then-Sen. Ken Salazar sponsored to prevent the expansion of the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site in southeastern Colorado. Udall, a member of the House of Representatives at the time, cast his vote for Salazar’s legislation.
Sen. Bennet did not respond to a request for comment about Hagel’s nomination at the Capitol Thursday, and his office has not issued a statement.
Hagel’s nomination is expected to be considered before the full U.S. Senate this week.