Chuck Hagel apologizes to Wasserman Schultz about 'Jewish lobby' remark, allays other concerns
Chuck Hagel's years-ago use of the term "Jewish lobby" offends Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. But the Florida lawmaker and Democratic National Committee chairwoman said after speaking with Hagel yesterday, she is even more supportive of his nomination for defense secretary.
"He was apologetic. He said he absolutely understands that it was an unfortunate choice of words," Wasserman Schultz told the Tampa Bay Times on Friday. "By the end of my conversation, he really put me at ease. I have a comfort level that I’m very glad that I have."
Scrutiny goes well beyond word choice (Hagel's also apologized for anti-gay remarks) to whether he's sufficiently strong on Iran. Critics have accused him of opposing sanctions but Wasserman Schultz said Hagel gave assurances he fully supports President Barack Obama's positions. "He told me unequivocally that he does not support a policy of containment; he supports a policy of prevention."
The conversation also touched on criticism that Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska, failed to sign a Congressional letter condemning Russian anti-Semitism. "He generally didn’t believe in sending letters from congress to other world leaders so instead, he wrote a letter to President Clinton expressing that same very grave concern," Wasserman Schultz said.
Wasserman Schultz doesn't get a vote on the nomination. But she is a prominent member of the Jewish community and a top advocate for the president. She said she supported Hagel before yesterday but had been getting questions from members of the Jewish community and knew reporters would be asking as well. So the two connected by phone.
"We had a very frank and good conversation," Wasserman Schultz said. "He couldn't have been more magnanimous and willing and open to have discussions to address concerns. To me, what I learned, was that much of the concern is what you could chalk up to misunderstandings over his true positions and a lack of familiarity of where he is on those issues."
One area Wasserman Schultz still disagrees with is Hagel's past criticism of U.S. policy toward Cuba, which he has called outdated and ineffective.
"I don't agree with Sen. Hagel about that. I didn't talk to him about that. But my views on Cuba policy line up with Sen. Marco Rubio's and Sen. (Bob) Menendez. But again, the president has supported leaving the embargo in place but also believes we should continue to reach out diplomatically to Cuba. .... I'm confident that Sen. Hagel will be supportive of the president's policies."