New York – In a fairly lengthy radio interview this morning on JM in the AM with host Nachum Segal, United States Senator Chuck Schumer (D-New York) was asked to defend his swift endorsement of the nomination of former Nebraska Republican Senator Chuck Hagel for the Secretary of Defense post.
Asked by Mr. Segal if he sympathizes with and understands why so many people in the pro-Israel community are angry about the president’s nomination of Hagel, Schumer responded, “As is clear, I had my doubts about Chuck Hagel and in fact, made them public on the Meet the Press show – it got all over the press that Schumer, you know, was throwing some cold water on this nomination and that was before he was nominated.”
But Schumer said his concerns were allayed after meeting with Hagel. “The president asked me to meet with him before I made any decisions and that was only fair because I had lots of concerns, but everyone has based on his statements – almost all of which are basically in the 2005, 2007, time. I sat down with him for 90 minutes and I asked him many, many probing questions. I asked him point blank these questions about Iran, about Israel and the Palestinians, about Hezbollah, about Hamas – all the things that I’ve spent my life standing for and fighting for and his answers were not pat, were not check the box.”
Listen to the interview below:
Schumer also said he felt confident that Hagel was sincere in his responses and that he genuinely believes Hagel has changed his earlier positions.
“You know, Nachum,” Schumer said. “I’ve been around in politics 37 years and I’ve been fooled on occasion, but not too often. I think I have a pretty good as they call it BS detector and he was sincere. He basically said, ‘Look, the bottom line is the world has changed since 2005, 6 and 7. Iran is far more dangerous and far more militant than it was then’ – everyone would agree with that. George Bush wasn’t shutting down Iran in 2005, 6 and 7.”
Hagel allegedly also told Schumer that Hamas and Hezbollah are now closer to Iran and more militant and worse than they previously were. Recounting his conversation with Hagel, Schumer said, “He said not only should the military option lay on the table in terms of Iran – he said these point blank – and I said what if there is no choice but a military option or a nuclear Iran? – that the sanctions fail. We all hope they’ll succeed, but they could well fail. And he said, then we have no choice but to take action.”
Segal then interjected and said the Jewish community is concerned about the speed with which Schumer endorsed Hagel’s nomination. Segal asked Schumer what he will do if something untoward is revealed during the nomination hearing which raises a red flag. Schumer said he was not overly concerned about such a possibility because Hagel is going to be asked to respond to the very same questions during the hearing as he did in his meeting with Schumer. The senator said he warned Hagel that was making his answers public so he could not change his responses later, and Hagel assured Schumer that he planned to “answer the questions in the very same exact way.” Schumer said that while Hagel “satisfied my concerns, I’ll be watching him like an eagle. I will be on top of not just him but the administration as I’ve been before.”
Schumer went on to defend his own record of standing up for Israel, saying, “I believe whether the president is a Democrat or Republican, you give them the benefit of the doubt of the choice. But when I disagree with them [the administration], I make it public. I think I’m basically the only major Jewish official or any official who has disputed their view of Israel and Palestine. In other words, whatever you think of settlements, whatever you think of borders, the reason there’s no peace is ‘cause the Palestinians don’t want to recognize the Jewish state.”
Schumer concluded the interview by adding that he believes he “made the right choice” in supporting Hagel’s nomination even though he knew he would “get flak” from the Jewish community. “Frankly, to your audience, the easy choice in a certain sense was to just say no because I know how people feel. I’m around in the community. I thought for the future of Israel, even with the doubts I had before and the earlier statements which are painful to me that Hagel made, that given that I truly believe he has changed and the need for close cooperation, this was the right decision.”