Hardball | January 07, 2013
>>> hagel for defense chief. let's play "hardball."
>>> good evening. i'm chris matthews in washington. let me start tonight with president obama , this country's commander in chief. start with that fact, will you? it's his job to defend this country. and he's done a pretty good job of doing it, don't you think? well, the commander in chief said today he wants a former vietnam enlisted guy to be his secretary of defense , a guy who can't walk through an airport metal detector and not get reminded of the shrapnel he took in that sad but heroic american war . the president wants chuck hagel in that post because he thinks like him and has proven he's got the brains to protect this country. hagel long ago proved he's got the heart. don't you think? i don't hate the people trying to stop the president from picking this guy for the job he needs done at the pentagon, but i do recognize their tactics. they're the same ones they used to push the war in iraq . they say they don't like something he said hagel did 14 years ago about a gay man being put up for ambassador. i don't like it either, but, a, it was 14 years ago, and, b, i don't think it's got anything to do with why the hawks are opposing him. since when is the right wing of this country is caring for gay rights ? as bill clinton would say, give me a break. and this isn't about israel 's security any more than it's about ours. the right wants a hawk at defense for all occasions. someone with an itchy trigger fing mother has always got a country lind up to go to war with, iraq, afghanistan, iraq again, libya, syria, iran. sorry, the guy you lined up to be president would have picked a person you'd want as defense chief, a real genuine hawk, but mitt romney lost, didn't he? he lost. so keep firing off those anti- hagel columns and editorials, my right wing brothers, and don't worry, you won't get hurt. it's why they don't give you purple hearts for writing op-ed pieces like they did chuck hagel for being out there actually defending this country. let's start tonight with former nebraska senator bob kerrey and the atlantic's steve clemens. senator, it's always an honor to speak with you. the president today said chuck hagel is an american patriot when he announced the nomination of the former senator from your state to head the pentagon. let's take a listen.
>> chuck hagel is the leader that our troops deserve. he is an american patriot . he enlisted in the army and volunteered for vietnam . to this day he bears the scars and shrapnel for battles he fought in our game. we see a decorated combat veteran of character and strength. they see one of their own. most importantly, chuck knows war is not an abstraction. he understands that sending young americans to fight and bleed in the dirt and mud, that's something we only do when it's absolutely necessary.
>> well, senator hagel paid tribute to the men and women in uniform at the announcement today. let's listen to the nominee himself.
>> mr. president, i am grateful for this opportunity to serve our country again, and especially its men and women in unifortunatentunately -- unform and their families. these are people that give so much to this nation every day with such dignity and selflessness. this is particularly important at a time as we complete our mission in afghanistan and support the troops and military families who have sacrificed so much over more than a decade of war.
>> senator bob kerrey , i have always respected your service to the country. you lost part of a leg for this, and this guy, what is it about nebraska that keeps naming you guys, real wounded warriors, to represent them in washington and should this guy be secretary of defense ?
>> well, nebraska is a great state. i mean, and the answer is yes. for the men and women who are serving in the army, air force , navy, marine corps , coast guard , active reserve and the guard, this is a great appointment. this man will fight to make certain that our troops get the right equipment, that they get the right training, that they get the right resources in order to get the job done. he will be a great leader for our military, and i'm grateful that the president picked in this case a republican who can actually get the job done. so i'm -- it's a great appointment. if you're serving in our military, if you have served in our military, if you're worried about our nation's security, this is a terrific appointment.
>> one thing i have always liked but is your incredible ind. endense, senator kerrey. what do you think about the senate when you read it right now tonight and you like at the weird anger from people like lindsey graham against this nomination and cornyn which is more obviously partisan. what do you make of the 100 senators and how they're going to vote on this nomination?
>> you sort of worry that it could become another one of those litmus test votes as opposed to just an honest judgment about whether or not chuck hagel can serve the country, particularly given the transition, the difficult transition, the budget constraints that the department of defense is facing. rather just answer the question, is he going to be able to fight and lead the pentagon and make certain that our troops get the resources they need, the training they need, the support that they need rather than focusing on that, they're off looking at whether or not something he said 15 years ago, some policy question and, unfortunately, it may command an awful lot of attention, but i do think at the end of the day that enough republicans and democrats will look at chuck hagel , will examine his record, will consider what he's done and what he's capable of doing and they'll vote to confirm.
>> let's take a look at the analysis we just heard from a combat vet himself, medal of honor winner we just talked to and he's going to be back in a minute. let me ask you about this, steve , the grey rights thing. this country has moved like a blitzkrieg to use a bad metaphor for 20, 30 years. i have moved so far. i'm a pretty liberal guy but i moved --
>> what were you saying 14 years ago?
>> i wasn't saying this but i wasn't going out to get hor mell and i wasn't calling him aggressively gay or stuff about that. what he meant is he's militant. today i look at the numbers, the majority of american people support gay marriage . this country is going through an incredible transition of acceptance, if not celebration, real acceptance.
>> i think that's absolutely right. i think it's become a nonissue for most.
>> and i think that even if you poll the gop party, you find a majority that support gay marriage in --
>> just haven't gotten around to it in the platform yet.
>> exactly. i have known chuck hagel for years and i have had a relationship, interaction, and i happen to have been accidentally at least maybe the only journalist or blogger at the time that talked to him a couple years ago about don't ask don't tell and the purges of muslim translator who happened to be gay working in intelligence services . he was appalled by it. he made very clear that he stood by --
>> we're losing good people.
>> yeah, we were losing good people and he was there. i think he's put out i think a really great apology to james hormell and hormell did a gracious --
>> what was, norway?
>> luxembourg. michael guest who was a gay ambassador also came out in politico and issued a very fervent defense --
>> i saw that today. here is chuck hagel , he was under criticism from anti-gay groups for that comment he made. he called him openly aggressively gay. he recently apologiesed and today familiary baldwin responded to the news of hagel 's nomination. take a look on our network today.
>> i plan to ask some tough questions, to give a thorough review, and to be fair, but i do want to speak with him particularly about his comments 14 years ago to see if his apology is sincere and sufficient. i want to hear how he's evolved on this issue in the last 14 years.
>> senator kerrey, a lot of the opposition has been by what we call neoconservatives or hawks to keep it simple who basically don't think that he's got the same juice, the same instincts for warfare. what do you make of that? that he doesn't really want to fight as much as the hawks do, whether it's iran or whatever country?
>> there's no evidence of that. first of all, he's already fought once. how much more does he have to do to prove he's willing to fight for his country? secondly, if you look at his record, the big question for chuck is, is it worth the cost? and that's something that our men and women in the military need to have somebody asking repeatedly because he fought in a war that was very popular in the beginning and unpopular at the end. we tend to get all worked up at the beginning and, oh, my god, people are dying and killing each other, and then we want to get out, and it's very difficult to get out once you started it. so i think you need to have somebody that's skeptical at the beginning, but he's certainly demonstrated very much what i used to be mainstream conservative thinking, i always thought of chuck as being sort of a reagan-style republican, believing that we achieve peace through strength and our military has to remain strong. it's just that the policy issue, you know, he voted for the iraq war and was very krit klg of the way it was conducted and i think he was an honest critic. as it turns out, think he was right.
>> many of hagel 's former colleagues cite size his nomination. take a listen to this attack.
>> i have known chuck hagel . he's an honorable man. he's had a record of distinguished service, but he's profoundly wrong on a number of the most important national security issues that face our country today like denying iran nuclear weapons.
>> hagel 's record is very, very troubling on the nation of israel . he has not been a friend to israel , and in my view the united states should stand unshakeablely with the nation of israel , and he has consistently advocated weakness with respect to our enemies.
>> chuck hagel , if confirmed to be secretary of defense , would be the most antagonistic secretary of defense toward the state of israel in our nation's history. he has long severed his ties with the republican party . this is an in your face nomination by the president to all of us who are supportive of israel .
>> well, john mccain a fellow vietnam war vet, he released a statement after today's announcement saying, quote, chuck hagel served our nation with honor in vietnam and i congratulate him on this nomination. i have serious kerns about the positions senator hagel has taken on a range of critical national security issues in recent years. you listen to some of this vitriol it's like he's charles lindberg or something. i have been to israel so many times. you have doves in the community over there, you have moderates, people like perez who is almost godly in his love for peace. you got all kinds of people over there with different views. isn't the american secretary of defense allowed to have a particular view that's in the middle or slightly to the left or does it have to be bibi nnt netanyahu to have --
>> if you go to tel aviv and look at the debate --
>> it's wide open .
>> wide open . here it's much more --
>> if you're not for bibi you're not kerred pro-israeli.
>> chuck hagel is not a pacifist. number two, he's a war is last resort rather than war is first resort guy. i think that combined -- israel is obviously an important ally of the united states but unless you're kicking the teeth in of israel 's neighbors, then people are basically -- chuck hague sel no different than bob gates , no different than leon pnt, no different than anybody else in the obama administration.
>> senator kerrey, you have been in politics all these years. what is the vehemence about? is it the sense he's just too much to the left of the right wing? what is the new standard for middle east politics in being secretary of defense for the united states ?
>> well, that's a good question. i think it's going to be proven in his testimony that he's a very strong supporter of the united states being a strong ally of israel . i mean, that's really the bottom line. are you willing to be an ally of israel , yes or no, and he's going to answer emphatically yes. his votes and his record confirm that. does he have disagreements from time to time with the prime minister of israel ? the answer is yes. but, you know, i have disagreements from time to time with the president of the united states but that doesn't mean i don't support the united states of america . so, i mean, i think the representations that he's going to be terrible for israel i just think is wrong. and i think when he gets before the armed services committee , i think he's going to press the american people 's able to do the most important thing, which is to represent the men and women who are serving in our military and to make certain they get the equipment and training necessary to carry out their mission and that he's going to be there when the debate is occurring as to whether or not we ought to go to war and remind people that often times it occurs we get all enthusiastic, everybody is behind a war at the beginning, and all of a sudden we find out people are killing and dying and we turn against it. he has been in an unpopular war, one that was popular in the beginning, became unpopular at the end, and our men and women in the military need that kind of voice when it comes time to putting up the balloon.
>> well said. great to have you on senator bob kerrey . thanks for coming on the show. steve clemens, thank you.
>>> split decision in the wake of president obama 's re-election. the republican party is divided in . that's being isolated and ignored by the right wingers. that's a problem for the gop. that southern dominance may sentence the entire party to irrelevance.
>>> conservative identify logs are itching for another fight with president obama this time saying they may shut down the government altogether or risk a credit catastrophe. could somebody remind these fis who won the election again.
>>> plus. nra has made its position clear. the answer to gun vie mens, more guns. we have evidence that posting armed guards everywhere has the exact opposite effect. the latest blooins as the obama administration moves to curb the availability of assault weapons .
>>> let me finish with why this nomination of chuck hagel should be given a solid, solid chance, and that is "hardball," the place for poll