Saturday, October 25th, 2014

Fact-checking the Hagel nomination

Chuck Hagel testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Jan. 31, 2013. (AP Photo)
Chuck Hagel testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Jan. 31, 2013. (AP Photo)

On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate confirmed Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s nominee for defense secretary.

The 58-41 vote came after a lengthy debate over Hagel’s views and policy positions, with particular grilling on Israel, Iran and the Iraq War.

Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska and a Vietnam veteran, was opposed by some Republicans, as well as by outside spending groups like the the Emergency Committee for Israel and Americans for a Strong Defense.

Our fact-checking found that Hagel has consistently expressed caution when it came to the United States using military force against other countries. But we also found he wasn’t nearly as opposed to military action as the attack ads against him portrayed.

Here are some of our fact-checks about the Hagel nomination since it was first announced on Jan. 7.

On whether Republicans filibustered Hagel or not

Sen. Harry Reid, the Democratic majority leader, brought up Hagel’s nomination on Feb. 14, but it failed to achieve the 60 votes necessary for a procedural vote known as  "cloture." Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said the move was "not a filibuster," adding "I realize it is the headline the majority leader would like the newspapers to write."

We looked into the blocked vote and found that the move could be considered a filibuster, though there aren’t formal rules that define a filibuster. We rated Cornyn’s statement Mostly False.

Attacks on Hagel from Ted Cruz of Texas

One of Hagel’s most high-profile critics is freshman Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. PolitiFact Texas looked at two statements from Cruz.

Cruz said Hagel’s nomination "has been publicly celebrated by the Iranian government." An Iranian foreign ministry spokesman, speaking in reaction to Hagel’s nomination, said he hoped  Washington would become "respectful of the rights of nations" and if so, he said, Iran’s hatred of U.S. policies will decrease.

The experts on Iran we interviewed said that statement fell far short of celebration. We rated Cruz’s statement Pants on Fire!

The criticism from Cruz drew strong rebukes from Democrats and others, who said comments like that were out of line and reminiscent of McCarthyism.

His office defended his assessments by noting that Cruz had included some praise along with the harsh attacks. Cruz "has repeatedly praised Chuck Hagel’s character, patriotism, bravery, and personal service defending our nation — at the confirmation hearing, in writing, and at the committee hearing casting his vote on Senator Hagel’s nomination," his office said.

PolitiFact Texas found four instances of praise. But each time -- and in other comments that lacked any praise at all -- Cruz berated Hagel so harshly that other senators advised him to tone it down. We rated Cruz’s statement Half True.

Hagel’s positions on foreign policy

Even before Obama made his choice, outside spending groups bought ads attacking Hagel.

"Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel?" asks a disgusted sounding narrator in an ad from the Emergency Committee for Israel. The ad then went on to portray him as soft on Iran and concluded by calling him "not a responsible option" for defense secretary.

The ad said Hagel voted against sanctions against Iran, but we found that he has voted both for and against economic sanctions aimed at Iran as a Senator. He’s expressed doubts that sanctions would halt Iran, repeatedly calling for the United States to hold discussions with Iran. We rated the claim Half True.
   
The ad next said Hagel opposes military action against Iran.We found that he repeatedly has called on the United States to engage Iran in direct discussions and has expressed concern that a military attack on Iran could lead to widespread counter-attacks. But his most cautious statements on the military option for Iran were made when the United States was actively engaged in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We rated the claim that Hagel ruled out military action Mostly False.

Another group, Americans for a Strong Defense, said in a TV ad that Hagel wants to end the U.S. nuclear weapons program.

Actually, Hagel has called for the eventual worldwide elimination of nuclear weapons, with some major caveats that the ad ignores.
   
Experts on nuclear policy said Hagel’s views are mainstream and have been held by both Democratic and Republican presidents, including Barack Obama and Ronald Reagan. We rated the ad’s claim Mostly False.