Barny Frank Scales Back Criticism of Hagel
January 7th, 2013
In remarks to the Boston Globe, retired Rep. Barny Frank (D-MA) has scaled back his criticism of former Sen. Chuck Hagel’s (R-NE) pending nomination as Defense Secretary. But before getting to his latest comments, I think it’s important to review his previous statements in order to provide full context. On December 19, after Hagel’s anti-gay comments from 1998 came to light but before he issued his apology, Frank ignored those earlier anti-gay statements and instead focused on charges that Hagel was either an anti-Semite or, at best, not a friend to Israel. Frank opinion then was:
Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who is Jewish, said he did not object to what has become one big point of contention about Hagel: an allusion to the “Jewish lobby,” in reference to advocates for Israel in Congress and elsewhere.
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having Portuguese lobbies, Jewish lobbies, Greek lobbies,” Frank said. “I think he’d be very good. … You need someone intelligent to help cut that budget.”
After Hagel apologized, Frank changed his mind on New Year’s Eve:
Then-Senator Hagel’s aggressively bigoted opposition to President Clinton’s naming the first openly gay Ambassador in U.S. history was not, as Sen. Hagel now claims, an aberration,” Frank said. “He voted consistently against fairness for LGBT people and there does not seem to be any evidence prior to his effort to become Secretary of Defense of any apology or retraction of his attack on James Hormel.”
Frank added, “And to those of us who admire and respect Mr. Hormel, Sen. Hagel’s description of him as aggressive can only mean that the Senator strongly objected to Hormel’s reasoned, civil advocacy for LGBT people. I cannot think of any other minority group in the U.S. today where such a negative statement and action made in 1998 would not be an obstacle to a major Presidential appointment.”
Today, Frank began walking that back:
“I was hoping the president wouldn’t nominate him,” Frank told the Globe today.
“As much as I regret what Hagel said, and resent what he said, the question now is going to be Afghanistan and scaling back the military,” Frank said. “In terms of the policy stuff, if he would be rejected [by the Senate], it would be a setback for those things.”
…“With the attack coming out of the right, I hope he gets confirmed,” Frank said today.
I don’t think Frank is being inconsistent. He’s framing his support for Hagel based on the larger question of what a Defense Secretary will be called upon to do in the coming months. But when it comes to LGBT policy, it’s worth noting that all policy originates in the White House, and the buck will always stop there. And this particular president — who dismantled DADT, who is acting on the conviction that DOMA is unconstitutional, who has come out in support for marriage equality — has earned a measure of latitude that no other president has come close to deserving in all of American history, at least insofar as LGBT policies are concerned. I will have more thoughts on this topic later.
Update: I want to add that this in no way means that I find Hagel’s apology acceptable as a final word. It opens a door, but that doorway is yet to be walked through.