New Hampshire Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte says she is “concerned” with the positions of potential defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel on Israel and Iran, and that she intends to question him “vigorously” if he is nominated by the president.
“I appreciate Senator Hagel’s record of public service,” Ayotte told The Daily Caller in an emailed statement Tuesday.
“While he has not yet been nominated, I am concerned about his prior positions with regard to Israel and Iran,” she said. “If he is nominated to serve as Secretary of Defense, I intend to vigorously question him on those prior positions.”
Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska, is rumored to be President Barack Obama’s top choice to replace Leon Panetta as head of the Defense Department next year. He has come under fire from some quarters for his positions on Israel and Iran.
Among the issues critics have raised, Hagel previously called for direct talks with the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas and refused to sign a letter when he was in the Senate urging the European Union to designate Hezbollah a terrorist organization. He also voted against designating Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization and once claimed there was a “Jewish lobby” that politically “intimidates” elected officials on Capitol Hill.
Other Republican senators spoke out to The Weekly Standard Tuesday, echoing Ayotte’s concerns, though not stating they would necessarily oppose Hagel’s nomination.
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said that while he likes Hagel and considers him a friend, “these comments disturb a lot of people and he’ll have to answer those questions.”
McCain said that he doesn’t know what Hagel means when he refers to the “Jewish lobby.”
“I know of no ‘Jewish lobby,’” McCain said. “I know that there’s strong support for Israel here. I know of no ‘Jewish lobby.’ I hope he would identify who that is.”
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio also weighed in, saying that he disagreed with Hagel’s comment regarding a “Jewish lobby” and that Hagel would have to answer for his entire record if he is nominated by President Obama.
“I don’t agree with that statement,” Rubio said. “If he is nominated, there’ll be a hearing. His entire public record and all his public pronouncements will be reviewed as a part of that process. And we’ll move on from there.”